Rutherford County has become one step closer to adding a new department to its county government.
It’s currently fighting a federal lawsuit alongside private probation company Pathways Community Corrections, formerly Providence Community Corrections. The lawsuit claims the service targeted the poor with unreasonable fees. One federal judge called the practice a "remarkable injustice."
Now PCC and the county are severing ties at the end of March and the county is possibly going to pick up the slack itself. But creating a whole new department is an enormous task.
“I don’t like voting on something just because we’ve got to hurry up and vote on it,” said Commissioner Brad Turner.
By April 1 a new plan must be in place or there will be 3,200 people who were ordered under supervision by a judge without a probation officer to keep track of them.
County Mayor Ernest Burgess was adamant. He wants to stop letting private companies come in because any missteps from them can take the county down too. He used the current lawsuit as an example.
He proposed a plan that would include 19 staff members and a $1.3 million yearly budget.
“I think in my heart of hearts it’s not the right thing to do- continuing this private probation process. I think it's problematic moving forward and I just really want to see us take a fresh approach,” he said.
But some commissioners were uncomfortable making a decision this big, this quickly.
“I’m very concerned that the new department’s not going to be self-sufficient,” said commissioner Robert Stevens, who appeared at the committee meeting to voice his concerns, “other counties that have in-house departments that are our size end up subsidizing it with taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Rutherford County did not pay PCC to operate. The company retained a portion of the fees it charged parolees.
The Public Safety Committee approved the mayor's plan 5-to-2. A plan to move forward with the public option but also put out feelers for private companies to step in temporarily was voted down.
The mayor's plan now heads to the budget committee and ultimately the entire commission for a vote on March 17. That's two weeks before the new department would have to be functional.