9 Investigates: State overcharged for juvenile justice

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Since 2004, Florida counties have been responsible for picking up part of the tab for juvenile justice. It's not a decision the counties made willingly, instead, the legislature implemented cost sharing.

Under the plan, counties are supposed to pay for pre-adjudication with the state paying for post-adjudication. But the math on who paid what was not done by the counties; instead, Tallahassee would send a bill each year.

In Orange County, the bill for juvenile justice varied anywhere between $2.5 million in 2005 to $8.2 million in 2007. Not only were the bills from the state unpredictable, they also tied up county money that counties argued could be better spent on education and rehabilitation programs instead of incarceration.

"Over time, it's evolved to be a bureaucratic, convoluted meltdown if you will," said Cragin Mosteller of the Florida Association of Counties. "We should be focusing on prevention and rehabilitation, instead we're focusing on bureaucracy and billing."

The Florida Association of Counties is again pushing the Florida Legislature to overhaul the system. In its 2014 Legislative Priorities, the association calls for, Initiatives that reduce juvenile detention through prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services. In addition, support state funding for the operation of juvenile detention facilities, as upheld by Florida's courts and support allowing counties to pay actual costs on a monthly reimbursement basis."

"This is in our community so we have a responsibility to address this issue," said Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer.

Brummer, who served in the Florida Legislature prior to serving on the Orange County Commission, points out that it is all tax money, just from different accounts and with different guidelines.

"This all comes down to the taxpayer," says Brummer. "To me, no question the Legislature should resolve this."

Funding for Department of Juvenile Justice has been at the center of two lawsuits between counties and the state. In each lawsuit, the counties have prevailed with the courts' ruling that the state has been overcharging counties for the cost of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

In the first lawsuit, the counties argued the state's new rules for cost sharing were an unfunded mandate. In the second lawsuit, the counties argued the state's math for billing was arbitrary and unfair.

Resolving the problem may in itself be problematic.

In 2013, a number of counties challenged the calculations on what was owed going back as far as 2009. In response to the challenge by the counties, the Department of Juvenile Justice published new recalculations for the counties, revealing almost $126 million in overbilling by the state and overpayment by the counties from 2009-2012.

In a written statement, Orange County Deputy Administrator Linda Akins Weinberg said, "It is estimated that going forward, Orange County will pay a little around $2.3 million this fiscal year. The counties have not posited that we shouldn't pay anything for juvenile detention, but we do believe it should be fairly apportioned, which is what the litigation sought to resolve. Now that we have a ruling saying the state overcharged the counties, it will be interesting to see if we get a refund."