A photo of the renovation at the Tompkins County Jail, posted on the sheriff's office Facebook page last year. Delays to the jail project have driven up jail costs for taxpayers, county officials say.

ITHACA, N.Y. — An unexpected increase in costs at the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office has saddled taxpayers with a new bill.

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Lawmakers budgeted $526,233 to spend on the sheriff’s office in 2015. Due to a few different factors, including delays to a jail renovation project, Tompkins County is now projected to spend more than $800,000 on the sheriff’s office this year.

(In 2014, Tompkins County spent about $763,000 on the sheriff’s office.)

“The budget has proved to be too optimistic,” says County Administrator Joe Mareane. “I think there are some extraordinary circumstances that have affected the sheriff’s office this year; I don’t think this is the new normal.”

On Monday, a committee of the Tompkins County Legislature is set to discuss a resolution to increase taxpayers’ allocation to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office by about $360,000.

(Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly included a photo from a project that the jail that was not the current renovation project.)

Reason 1: Jail costs increase

The budget for the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office is divided in two: 1) The jail; and 2) Road patrol.

At least $220,000 of the $360,000 increase is for rising jail-related costs: $96,000 for corrections officer staff; $48,000 for correction officer sergeants; and $78,000 for the cost of boarding inmates in other jails.

According to Mareane, a few factors contributed to the rise in jail costs: 1) Delays to the jail renovation, which have meant even more “board outs” than in years past; 2) High turnover among corrections officer staff, leading to an increase in overtime; 3) An unexpected — and, so far, unexplained — recent rise in inmate levels.

Mareane said the renovation project was slowed down by several months. “It got off to a late start,” Mareane said.”We expect to have those beds available early next year.”

Also upending the optimistic budget expectation is high turnover, with several new corrections officers quickly leaving after joining, Mareane said.

“The newer employees, once they come in and get some time under their belt, they decide the profession is not for them and they leave,” Mareane says. “When one leaves, you have to fill that vacancy with overtime. I think that’s part of what’s happening at the jail.”

Reason 2: Road patrol costs increase

But while the jail is the primary source of increased expenses at the sheriff’s office, it’s not the only one.

Road patrol costs were projected to be $341,233 in 2015 but are instead on pace to reach $439,795 this year, Mareane said. (In 2014, the county spent $377,246 on road patrol.)

Mareane gave “pressure on overtime” as one key factor behind this greater-than-expected increase in road patrol costs. He noted that the Hornbrook Road incident, in which law enforcement dealt with a 61-hour-standoff, and a special assignment on South Hill for Ithaca College graduation to deter partying, were also probably factors in additional overtime.

“It’s harder to pin down a single specific cause,” he said.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.