SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- The partial federal government shutdown is starting to have a financial impact on some southern Illinois counties, as jails that house federal inmates wait for reimbursement.
In Saline County, which has ongoing financial issues, Saline County Sheriff James "Whipper" Johnson said a lack of federal reimbursement could spread his office thin and even force him to lay off some sheriff's deputies.
The county jails house federal inmates through an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service. The agreement requires them to house, medicate and transport inmates.
But with funding temporarily cut off from the Marshals Service, the counties are left holding the bag until a funding agreement is reached.
It's not as much of an issue in Williamson County, according to Sheriff Bennie Vick.
"We'll go ahead and house and feed their inmates as long as they need us to," Vick said.
But in counties like Saline that face serious economic uncertainty, any delay in reimbursement is detrimental to the county's overall financial health.
Though numbers can change daily, Saline County houses an average of about 10 federal inmates at any given time, Johnson said. With a reimbursement rate of $55 per inmate per day, that average of $550 per day will add up quickly, he said.
"That's close to what we pay about three employees a day," he said. "I know at some point we will get the money, but it's not helpful right now when our county is struggling financially."
Johnson, whose sheriff's department has the largest budget of all Saline County offices, said most of the federal reimbursement is earmarked for nonpersonnel costs.
Besides sheriff's deputies, the courthouse, jail and dispatch service are in the sheriff's budget. Because Saline County is under contract with the feds and neighboring counties for inmates, it cannot lay off jailers. Likewise, because the 911 system has contracts with outside entities for dispatch, it cannot lay off dispatchers. That leaves deputies as one of the few areas that can be cut to save money.
Johnson isn't saying how long the county can go before it has to start laying off deputies. But he expects it will happen, he said. The sheriff's office already is down five deputies from its optimal staffing. One deputy was hired recently but must complete training before he can patrol individually.
Saline County Treasurer Jeff Murrie said the county received a letter from the federal government saying "there may be delays" in reimbursement.
"You can bet when they say 'may be delays' that there will be delays," Murrie said.
Because of the Christmas holiday, the Saline County Board met earlier in December and was able to approve its monthly claim for reimbursement prior to the government shutdown. January's check, though, likely will be delayed.
Meanwhile, Perry County already is awaiting a substantial reimbursement from the federal government, Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis said.
Like Saline County, Perry County is having to carefully watch its expenses already, and the government shutdown is not helping.
"We're waiting on a $65,000 check. It has a pretty big impact on a struggling county," Bareis said. "On a daily basis, we're talking about $1,900 a day."
Perry County's federal inmate count also fluctuates, but Bareis said his county is responsible for about 32 federal inmates. Perry County regularly transports those inmates to three or four courthouses, including St. Louis.
With the shutdown the U.S. Forest Service is closed. Several areas throughout the Shawnee National Forest are closed, with locked gates barring entry.
One of those areas not currently closed is Garden of the Gods, where earlier in the week, people were enjoying the unseasonably warm weather in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Hovhannes Sahakyan of Peoria was visiting Garden of the Gods with a friend, and he was just glad it was open.
"I had a free day, so I came down," he said. "I like to adventure, and this is a very nice place to visit."
But many areas of the forest are closed, and little information about those areas is available. A simple note on the door of the Shawnee National Forest headquarters in Harrisburg explains the office is closed and will reopen when funding is restored.
Word-of-mouth or a visit to the Facebook group Shawnee National Forest can provide some information to visitors about which sites are closed. The U.S. Forest Service website acknowledges the shutdown and contains a link for updates, but cautions that information will be added when possible.
And, while some reports from other federally controlled recreation areas include tales of significant trash left by inconsiderate visitors, that was not the case earlier at Garden of the Gods, where no trash could be observed in the main parking area, observation trail or backpacker's parking area.
In Williamson and parts of Jackson County, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge also is affected by the shutdown. Gates to some areas are locked, while others remain open. The visitor's center is closed, with a sign on the door advising that visitors to open areas are entering at their own risk.
Federal law enforcement remains in effect on the refuge. Wolf Creek Road, south of Carterville, is currently open. That area includes Bogard Point, where a couple of fishermen were braving the cooler weather and high winds on Wednesday. One of them said he had seen U.S. Fish and Game law enforcement officers patrolling the refuge.
Across the country, several reports indicate issues with unpaid Transportation Security Administration employees calling in sick at airports, but the administrator of Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois in Marion said so far his airport has not had an issue.
"It's not a problem here," Doug Kimmel, airport administrator, said. "Employees are still here doing their jobs. The Cape Air flights are still coming and going. Hopefully, it gets resolved, or at least in the interim, stays like this."