PORT ALLEN — West Baton Rouge Parish will be part of a new multi-parish commission tasked with operating and developing a funding mechanism for the St. James Parish Youth Detention Center.
However, the parish’s involvement may be short-lived, if the commission elects to institute a tax to fund the facility.
The detention center, which has been operated solely by St. James Parish, houses juvenile offenders from six nearby parishes and 25 law enforcement jurisdictions.
Facing changes in state Department of Children and Family Services licensing requirements, St. James officials have said they can no longer afford to continue operating the center without assistance.
The changes come after the state recently moved oversight of juvenile facility operations to the department from the state Office of Juvenile Justice.
“If St. James doesn’t do some things, it will lead to increasing the inmate housing rates dramatically,” West Baton Rouge Parish Council Chairman Gary Spillman said during the council’s meeting Thursday. “By joining together, we feel we can keep the costs down and work something out.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law two acts aimed at folding the facility into a multi-agency operation.
Act 814 gives juvenile detention centers in the state an additional six months — until July 1, 2013 — to review the newly created licensing requirements.
Meanwhile, Act 365 calls for the creation of multi-jurisdictional boards of commissioners to support the operation of juvenile detention facilities.
In addition to West Baton Rouge Parish, Spillman said, the group would consist of 17 members representing Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James and St. John parishes.
Parish Councilman Barry Huggins said that commissioners would be selected by the member parishes’ governing bodies, sheriffs, district attorneys and juvenile court judges.
While a funding source has yet to be identified, officials in many of the member parishes have expressed the desire to continue funding the center on a per diem basis, based on the parishes’ number of inmates, Spillman said.
“If we’d come to an issue about how to raise revenues, we’d go parish by parish to make those decisions,” Spillman said.
Huggins also said that issues arose in discussions about the parish paying what it felt was its fair share to maintain the center.
The facility holds as many as 40 inmates at a time, but averages about 30 per day, Huggins said. Of that number, an average of only one inmate is from West Baton Rouge Parish.
“That’s only 3 percent of the total cost,” Huggins said. “Under some taxing scenarios presented, we were asked to pay as much as 10 percent. We felt like that was inequitable.”
In the approved contract, council members also added language allowing the parish to opt out if the group’s majority decides to levy a tax to fund the center.
In regard to the exit clause, Spillman said, the parish wishes to have the option of leaving the group if a tax were to be placed on ballots in affected parishes.
“We feel like the council and parish president should have a say-so of when someone puts a tax to our people to be voted on,” Spillman said.
The group is expected to form during the next four to six months to begin work on a funding plan, Parish President Riley “Peewee” Berthelot said.