MANILA, Daggett County — Nearly two months have gone by since the Daggett County Jail cells were emptied of all 80 inmates due to a state investigation into allegations of misconduct — a situation that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue for Utah's smallest county.
The Utah Department of Corrections relocated the inmates to various jails across the state in February upon learning of claims of "inappropriate behavior" involving jail staff — and since then two corrections officers have been on administrative leave.
State and county officials have declined to elaborate on the allegations, but Maria Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said more information will be made available when the investigation is finished — which could be soon.
The investigation is "beginning to wrap up," Peterson said Wednesday, with a meeting between state and county jail officials expected sometime next week to go over the findings.
However, it's not certain when everything will be complete because the case is still being reviewed by the State Attorney General's Office for possible criminal charges, Peterson said.
Therefore, it's not yet known when inmates will return — and in the meantime, the jail and county budgets have taken a hit.
As each day goes by, the now-empty jail loses funds the state pays to house inmates.
The county, which contracts with the Utah Department of Corrections, regularly receives between $110,000 to $115,000 each month in state funds, according to the jail's spokeswoman, Susie Potter. For the two months the jail has sat empty, the loss has now amounted to more than $200,000.
"It's a financial hardship for the county," Potter said. "It's stretching (the budget) to the brink."
On an annual basis, state payments for jail inmates make up nearly 30 percent of Daggett County’s revenue — or about $1.4 million in 2016, according to Utah's transparency website. Daggett County's population is roughly 1,100.
To account for the losses, Potter said the county's budget has had to to be "reopened" in order to continue paying the salaries of the jail's roughly 15 full-time employees.
Most of the staff — aside from the two officers on leave — have been kept busy with maintenance projects over the past eight weeks, Potter said.
As time goes by, the entire county's budget is increasingly impacted, Potter said, though county officials are "hopeful" that next week's meeting will "wrap things up" so inmates can return sooner than later.
Daggett County Commissioner Jack Lyle said it's "premature" to know the total impact the investigation will have on county's overall budget since revenues won't start returning until inmates are back in their cells, but the amount lost has already been "significant."
"Daggett County is the smallest county in the state," Lyle said. "Any impact on the budget is concerning. ... We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best."
Lyle applauded Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen for asking the state to investigate after learning of the allegations, and also expressed gratitude to the Utah Department of Corrections for acting quickly.
"We don't condone any misbehavior in any form," he said. "When we find out the results of the investigation, we are going to be right on top making sure it will be taken care of appropriately."
Peterson said state officials understand a timely resolution is important to the county.
"We recognize they would like to have inmates back in their facility as soon as possible," she said.Comment on this story
Potter said she couldn't share details of the initial complaint that lead to the investigation — but it was serious enough the sheriff made the decision to call for a state investigation.
"The sheriff made the right call to call the state when he did," Potter said, adding that the county "respects" the state's decision to relocate inmates for the duration of the investigation.
"It's been difficult and been a hardship of course, but I know that they have done it as quickly as possible," she said.