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Mayor protests fees paid to county for inmates

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By Travis Jenkins

Chester Mayor George W. Caldwell had nothing to say during Monday’s meeting of Chester City Council regarding the increased fees municipalities are now paying to the county for housing inmates. Citizen George W. Caldwell had a lot to say.

In 2017, Chester County Council approved a massive increase in the fee, which had not been adjusted for inflation or rising costs in more than 25 years. The old cost of $4.80 a day obviously did not cover the real costs incurred by the county for housing and feeding inmates. That cost was raised to $52.50 per-day. Chester County Councilman Alex Oliphant said that cost was a bargain compared to the alternative that municipalities might have, which would largely be limited to building and maintaining their own jails.

Still, the jump in cost was not well-received by the county’s municipalities. Fort Lawn Mayor John Rumford called the price hike “short-sighted” and Chester City Council has discussed the issue on many occasions. The consensus from that body is that the fees increased too much, too fast. At Monday’s meeting of Chester City Council, the matter was listed both as an item in open session and as a legal discussion in executive session. Before getting to either the open or closed door discussions of the matter, though, Caldwell actually signed up to speak during the citizen’s forum that begins each meeting. He briefly left the council dais and walked down to the lectern from which citizens would normally speak. He made clear at the outset that he was giving his personal views on the matter as a tax-paying citizen and not in his official capacity as mayor.

“That is our jail too,” he said.

Caldwell expounded, noting that the tax dollars of city residents helped pay for the jail and also pay a large portion of the costs of day-to-day operations at the facility. He said it was grossly unfair then for the city to then have to pay a high cost for the housing of inmates on top of that.

“That would be called double taxation. Why should we have to pay fees when we already pay money into the county budget?” he asked.

The council actually removed the open-session discussion of the matter but did discuss it behind closed doors. Afterwards, the council voted unanimously (though Caldwell had left by that time) to give City Administrator Stephanie Guy-Jackson “authority to continue to compile information on inmate fees.”