Weatherford Democrat

December 12, 2012

County to dial up new inmate phone contract

Vendor says low jail populations adding up to revenue losses


Weatherford Democrat

— By JUDY SHERIDAN

jsheridan@weatherforddemocrat.com

A vendor that has been losing money selling telephone call services to Parker County Jail inmates won permission to have its three-year contract renegotiated from Parker County Commissioners Monday.

Charles Slaughter, vice president of Synergy, told the Democrat that his corporation has lost $7,000 to $10,000 monthly since workers installed the new phone system in the jail in August, mainly because the company’s bid was based on a 20 percent higher estimate of the number of daily inmates.

“And that doesn’t count the new phones, [payment] kiosks or $60,000 installation,” Slaughter said.

“Since the population has decreased, it’s tough to fulfill our obligations. We are doing it, but at a loss.”

The company came in with rates that were substantially lower than the former vendor’s, Slaughter said. The low rates, combined with the lower-than-expected inmate count — and associated lower call volume — prompted company officials to announce they would exercise a 30-day clause to terminate services last month.

County purchasing agent Deana Nichols told the court that after discussing the situation with the county attorney and sheriff’s office, she was seeking authorization to revise the contract instead of re-bidding and possibly disrupting phone services to the jail.

She presented commissioners with a proposal from Synergy, which lowered the guaranteed monthly commission to the county from $29,200 to $24,820 and added $1 more per call for long distance calls, which make up about 60 percent of the call volume, according to Slaughter.

“You can see from the letter that my analysis indicates that the inmate count that was provided during the RFP process was a little high,” Nichols pointed out. “The sheriff’s office has indicated that they are pleased with the installation, the equipment and the ongoing service from this vendor.”

Nichols said later that the request for proposal, used to solicit bids from contractors for county services, noted an average daily inmate population of 390, a figure provided by the sheriff’s office.

The most recent information from the sheriff’s office, however, shows a count of just 365 inmates per day, she said. The number reflects the 2012 calendar year to date.

Nichols said Slaughter, like other bidders, would have based his bid on the 390 count figure, not an independent calculation.

 Judge Mark Riley initially opposed changing the contract, asking how long the reduction would apply — for the duration of the contract, according to Nichols ­— and saying he would like the county to have the right to renegotiate the rate at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

“The way the contract is structured, should the inmate count increase or the call volumes increase, we would get the higher of either the straight commission rates or the guaranteed amount,” Nichols replied. “The guaranteed amount is a minimum.”

Nichols told the Democrat later that straight commission rates allow the county to collect 71 percent of what is paid for collect calls and 60 percent of what is paid for pre-paid calls.

“I’d like for us to have the right to at least come back and hear it discussed and see that everybody’s happy,” Riley continued. “We can’t approve like that. It’s not appropriate. If we’re going to allow them to come in and ... What’s the date of this contract? August? It’s pretty quick to come in and say we don’t like what we bid.”

After Riley asked commissioners for motions and none were offered, he moved on to other business. The judge revisited the item at the end of the agenda, when Nichols repeated her request to allow the contract to be renegotiated to prevent it from expiring Dec. 31.

She said the lower guaranteed minimum of $24,820 was still higher than the $20,833 budget estimate.

Russ Authier, chief deputy for the sheriff’s office, also spoke in favor of working with the vendor.

“We’re very, very pleased with the product,” he said. “I think those revenues will go up as well. Our population; we had an anomaly this year, the county’s coming back up.”

Authier told the Democrat that the Synergy system was user-friendly and superior in terms of conducting investigations. He said it included a voice recognition feature, which Slaughter expanded on.

“They used to have to listen to recordings and hope they got the right inmate,” Slaughter said, “but we have voice biometrics, and also they can zoom in on a particular call because it’s PIN (personal identification number) based.”