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Utah County sheriff resigns, cites frustration with commissioners over jail funding

Tracy also says layoffs and inmate releases coming

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy discuss a new campaign Tuesday, May 26, 2015, to raise the dangers of underage drinking. The graphic on police calls will stay in place for the next six months, as part of the first phase of the underage drinking initiative.
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy discuss a new campaign Tuesday, May 26, 2015, to raise the dangers of underage drinking. The graphic on police calls will stay in place for the next six months, as part of the first phase of the underage drinking initiative.
Sam Penrod, Deseret News

PROVO — Saying that he has sent five emails to commissioners over the past two months with no response, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy unexpectedly announced his resignation Tuesday during the Utah County Commission meeting.

"Having no information back from the commission then, I take that also as a vote of no confidence. At this point and time, I’m also resigning as sheriff effective Aug. 1,” he told the commission at Tuesday's meeting.

In addition, to close a budget deficit between $800,000 to $1 million that Tracy said the jail is now being sent to collections for, he told commissioners that he has no choice but to close two pods at the jail — reducing the jail by 128 beds — and releasing inmates into the community. According to a recording of the meeting, Tracy said he will be forced to order layoffs.

"We have hundreds of thousands of dollars currently owed that we have no money in that fund for,” he told commissioners. "At this point and time, I’m taking that as an indication that I need to solve this issue within my existing budget. Looking at the budget, the only way I can do that is to recommend that we have reduction in force by 15 to 20 slots, take that money and move it over to the medical so we can pay our bills," he said.

Tracy's bombshell announcements came at the end of the commission meeting during the public comment section.

"The time to act is now. I need to find that money,” Tracy said. "I have no other solution."

Commissioners Nathan Ivie and Bill Lee told Tracy "let's have some conversations," but did not have any immediate solutions. Commissioner Greg Graves was not at the meeting.

Tracy indicated that the majority of the budget shortfall was due to one "extraordinary case" of an inmate's individual medical bills, which he could not discuss in detail due to federal medical privacy rules.

After the council meeting, Ivie said there was one inmate that had cost the county about $500,000 in medical expenses and was expected to cost an additional $500,000. And he said that was at a discounted rate.

The county only budgets $400,000 for inmate medical expenses for the entire year.

"One person, since the start of this year, in February, has completely blown our general medical fund for the entire year for all inmates. And he's still in the hospital. He's draining us every single day," Ivie said.

While not identifying the inmate or his crime, Ivie said it is a person that was convicted of a previous crime in the 1990s and should not currently be in the United States. That inmate is presently accused of committing another "bad" crime, Ivie said. He did not go as far to say that the inmate's illness was terminal, but Ivie said it's the type that typically would result in hospice-type care.

The commissioner said the county still has $450,000 in line items that can be transferred to take care of this situation. Still, "we realize that we're going to run out of money," he said.

Ivie, who said he was surprised by Tracy's resignation, said he had had face-to-face conversations about the budget, letting him know about the extra $450,000. He said there was just a process that was involved in getting that money transferred. Ivie admitted that dipping that deep into reserve funds "stings a lot" and would wipe out a smaller county.

He said the county would attempt to get federal funds to help pay for the inmate, claiming that a failure in federal policies contributed to the inmate reoffending in Utah County.

In 2001, the Weber County Jail was faced with a similar situation. Richard Jeremy Funk, 32, was charged in September 2001 with two counts of aggravated murder, three counts of attempted aggravated murder, three counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary. He was accused of kidnapping his ex-wife and her mother, Pat Woodruff, torturing them and then shooting them to death.

But soon after his arrest, he developed terminal cancer and at one point was paralyzed from the waist down. There was controversy over whether Funk should remain in jail or be allowed to be transferred to a facility better equipped to handle his condition. The jail made special arrangements for Funk, including a special hospital bed and a round-the-clock nurse. He eventually died while in jail before going to trial.

Tracy has been Utah County's sheriff since 2003, and twice been named as Utah Sheriff of the Year by the Utah Association of Counties.

Contributing: Ladd Egan