By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- A three-year infrastructure improvement project at the Montgomery County Jail will start this year if the county Legislature approves the necessary funding.
The county Public Safety Committee passed a resolution Tuesday to amend the 2014 budget to appropriate $165,821 toward the first phase of infrastructure improvements proposed by Sheriff Michael Amato.
"I have tried to go through the normal means of budgeting the money to fix the infrastructure but every year it gets cut out," Amato told the committee. "I would like to do a two-to-three year project where I would work on the infrastructure of the building. I am not talking about cosmetic work. I am talking about our security systems and alterations on the interior of the building to work with the equipment."
Amato said the first phase calls for a series of computer and equipment upgrades, replacement of furniture, and construction and maintenance.
"This is an investment in a building that is going to be around for a long time that we haven't invested money in," he said. "Our security system is down and we are not recording anything. Our card swipe system is on its last leg. These are equipment issues that need to be addressed."
Amato anticipates offsetting the costs with additional revenues from the housing of federal prisoners. He budgeted $700,000, which is less than than last year because the federal government was going to change some laws to get federal prisoners out of county jails to save money.
"It didn't pass and those prisoners are still being housed," Amato said.
As of April, the department has collected $300,000 in revenues for federal prisoners, Amato said, noting the jail currently houses 30 federal prisoners, with six more coming.
"I believe that I will surpass the money I am asking for by a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and that will go back to the general fund to offset the budget in the future," Amato said.
The resolution moved by the committee Tuesday to the full legislature shows an increase in the fund balance, which District 5 Legislator John M. Duchessi questioned during the meeting.
"It sounds great, and I understand what you are up against, but why is this money coming from appropriated fund balance without increasing some other anticipated revenue line item?" Duchessi said.
County Treasurer Shawn J. Bowerman said revenue line items cannot be amended until those revenues are surpassed.
"For example, Amato has budget $700,000 and has only generated $300,000," Bowerman said. "He anticipates over $1 million but until he has exceeded the $700,000 threshold you can't amend the budget."
County attorney Douglas Landon said the law is outlined in the county charter.
"Look at this as you are just borrowing from the fund balance," Landon said.
Out of the $165,821, computer software and hardware will take up the majority at $138,000.
Another $28,001 would go toward a new vehicle, which Amato said will replace the county's current vehicle used to transport prisoners.
Amato said the vehicle will end up paying for itself since the county is reimbursed for transporting federal prisoners.
"Last year we generated $50,000 just to transport these prisoners," he said.
The remainder of the funds would go toward replacing seating in the jail, purchase portable radios, and a construction project in the central control area.
District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush said he supports the project as long as Amato can get everything done.
"I wouldn't want to take $165,000 from the fund balance and put it over if you could only use $90,000 of it this year," Quackenbush said. "But if you are confident you can accomplish everything, then so be it."
Quackenbush also asked if these projects should be considered part of the county's overall capital project plan. Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the countywide capital plan is not done yet and that it was necessary for the sheriff's department to get the project started.
"With the sheriff and the undersheriff going out of their way to bring in revenue we said why wait," Ossenfort said. "This is stuff that has be done."