BRIDGETON — Officials say the recent dropping of a lawsuit should make it easier to implement a plan to house inmates from Gloucester County’s soon-to-be closed jail in the Cumberland County jail.
Implementation of that plan is crucial for Cumberland County, which is using more than $1 million in inmate housing payments to balance this year’s budget and help offset any further possibly increase in its tax rate.
Members of three Fraternal Order of Police lodges have quit their lawsuit aimed at stopping the plan, which also involves Salem, Burlington and Essex counties. The union lodges dropped the lawsuit after accepting a deal with Gloucester County that will allow as many as 20 of that county’s corrections officers to take early retirement.
The FOP lodges, whose members included Gloucester County corrections officers who could lose their jobs under the plan, charged the proposal violated the state Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act.
One lawsuit remains active in connection with the inmate plan. That suit was filed by the state Office of the Public Defender on behalf of public defenders in Gloucester County. Among the claims is that the plan hampers the right of defendants to get a speedy trial.
Cumberland County Freeholder Chairman William Whelan said the lawsuit filed by the FOP lodges was the one that most concerned county officials.
“Potentially, I guess that could have stopped everything,” Whelan said.
Whelan said he believes the public defenders’ suit could be easier to resolve given today’s technology and communications methods. Pre-trial conferences and hearings could be handled via video proceedings, he said.
“It’s done all the time now,” he said of court proceedings that are done electronically.
Cumberland County officials are working out final details of the plan involving “when and how many,” Whelan said.
“It’s not something that will happen in a day,” he said.
Under the plan, Gloucester County would pay Cumberland County $100 a day for each inmate housed in the county jail in Bridgeton. The agreement provides for the housing of between 100 and 350 inmates from Gloucester County. Cumberland County’s jail can hold 550 inmates, and its population is generally around 430 inmates. Cumberland County officials said the county could, based on the housing of just 100 inmates, net about $3 million that could be put toward annual budget deficits.
Gloucester County would close its jail in Woodbury in July, a move that officials there said would save taxpayers about $250 million over the next 25 years. They said those savings include laying off more than a third of Gloucester County’s corrections officers.
Cumberland County is proposing a $117.5 million budget. The budget would increase the amount of money to be raised by taxation from $82.9 million to $85.4 million. That increases the county tax rate by almost 3 percent, from 90.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 92.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The budget is scheduled to undergo a public hearing June 25.
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