Leonard Hovis has saved Logan County taxpayers more than $2.3 million over the last five years.
Hovis, who is a certified public accountant, has a keen eye for mathematical errors, especially when it comes to money. When he was the county clerk in 2006, he spotted some discrepancies in the jail billing that was costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year more than what had been budgeted.
Hovis then asked around to learn more about the billing process. What he learned was that the county was paying out more than it should each year simply because prisoners weren’t being moved through the jail system promptly.
After he left office as the county clerk, Hovis signed on to work for the county to help decrease its jail bill.
Since 2007, he has reduced that bill by more than $2.3 million.
“In 2006, I was the county clerk and one of the clerk’s duties is to co-sign all the checks. I started looking at the jail bill and the county had budgeted $75,000 a month. From July through December, they were over budget $242,000 in the second half of 2006. That’s when I got involved,” Hovis said. “After my term was up, they asked me if I would consider staying on to help cut the costs,” Hovis said. “Anytime you have expenses of $150,000 per month, I knew there had to be a way to control it.”
Hovis said his accountant’s eye spotted the discrepancies and he made a presentation to the county commission showing what was happening and how the expenses could be controlled.
“For the calendar year of 2006, the jail bill was $1.5 million. Then, I started getting involved and working with the judges and prosecutors and they told me how it worked,” Hovis said. “I got involved in the first quarter of 2007 and for that year, the bill was $200,000 less — and that was just for part of the year. For 2008, the bill was half a million dollars less than the 2006 amount. The next year, it was down more than $500,000 and that’s what it’s been for 2010 and 2011. The total decreases for those periods is $2.3 million, compared to the 2006 bill. During that period of time, according to state figures, crime has risen about 5 percent per year.”
Hovis carefully looks at the jail log each week to see what criminals need to be moved to federal prisons or should be billed to some other department of corrections institution. He then works with the judges and prosecutors to make sure the appropriate institution is billed, rather than Logan County paying the costs.
“I get a printout each week of the prisoners that Logan County is responsible for. Right now, we have two murderers and four or five sexual predators and those people take a lot longer to bring them to trial because of the state crime lab’s poor turnaround time,” Hovis said. “The local wheels of justice can’t start until they get the crime lab information back. The crime labs says its understaffed, but that means thousands of dollars to each county because of the slow turnaround time.”
Hovis doesn’t rush prisoners into and out of jail. He just makes sure the proper authorities are billed for those prinsoners’ jailtime and he makes sure that all prisoners get their day in court — on schedule.
“I make sure everything flows as promptly as possible. I establish that everyone has an attorney. The work doesn’t start without an attorney. I go down to magistrate court and find out who has an attorney and who doesn’t. Sometimes they have one, sometimes they don’t. They may have been too drunk to fill out the paperwork, so the magistrate’s secretaries will call and have a counselor at the jail go to the prisoner and have him redo the paperwork,” Hovis said.
“I have the number of days that each prisoner has been in jail and then there are certain cutoffs. I analyze all the misdemeanor charges, which include domestic assault, petty larceny, prostitution and shoplifting, which can make them eligible for bond. The hearings are held promptly. But, if someone hasn’t had a hearing and the person is still in jail after 15-20 days on a misdemeanor, then I discuss it with the prosecutor. I have my list and anytime I see the attorneys in the courthouse, I ask them what is happening with these cases. Sometimes, they are unaware that the prisoner is one of their defendants. When they are not moved to the next step in the legal process, whether it’s prison or until they are bonded out or have their trial, I work to get their case heard in court.”
Hovis said that sometimes fugitives from other states can be lodged in the Southwestern Regional Jail and, if it’s not caught, Logan County gets charged with the bill.
“Fugitives aren’t billed to Logan County once they enter the fugitive file. Someone else — usually the state they are from — picks up the bill. But, until the local charges are dismissed, they are billed to Logan County,” Hovis said. “Fugitives are the No. 1 red flag for me because they can be moved. They’re not going to get out of jail. They’re just going to be moved back to Ohio, North Carolina or Virginia or wherever they are from.”
Hovis also said that he looks to see where prisoners have been arrested, because the county whose officers made the arrest should be paying the jail bill, instead of it falling on Logan County to pick up.
“I knowthe prisoner is not ours because there’s no file on him in magistrate court, so I get him transferred to the proper county,” Hovis said. “This happens occasionally.”
Hovis said he doesn’t have the power to get any prisoners in or out of jail. He only works on billing paperwork and makes sure the proper counties, states or legal institutions are picking up the tab.
If a prisoner has been sentenced, then the jail costs — $50 a day for each prisoner — get transferred to the Department of Corrections and off of Logan County taxpayers.
“From the day the jail gets the notification that they have been committed to prison, the bill is then transferred to the DOC,” Hovis said. “I had three people who were sentenced in March and they were still on our bill.”
Over the past five years, Hovis has only been paid around $150,000. He currently only gets paid a flat fee of $36,000 a year with no benefits and no retirement. That’s a small amount compared to the $2.3 million he’s saved the county.
Hovis also works with Mingo, McDowell, Boone and Mercer counties to help decrease those counties’ jail bills.
“The other counties have had serious problems,” Hovis said. “The word got out that we were able to reduce our jail costs, so Mingo and McDowell counties contacted me last year and Mingo County was able to reduce its jail bill by 25 percent. I helped in Mingo and the first month I was there, we got $15,000 worth of credits. McDowell County reduced its jail bill by 26 percent and I was only over in McDowell for six months. This year, I have been working with Boone County and they’ve got people working on their jail bill.”
Hovis said the jail bill is like a personal bill for him. People don’t pay a bill unless they check it out first, he said. And that’s what he does to help save the taxpayers of Logan County a lot of money.
“It was taken for granted that the billing was being done correctly, but there are many errors made in every county,” Hovis said. “Any county that thinks there aren’t errors, give me a day and I’ll show them.”
To contact Staff Writer Michael Browning, call 304-752-6950, extension 309, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.