|2/28/2013 3:28:00 PM|
Jail fees a
big concern for small Chelan County cities
|Once upon a time, Chelan County Sheriff's contracts with Leavenworth, Cashmere and Entiat were the full meal deal. It included radio dispatch, prosecuting attorney fees and jail fees. But in recent years, all those items have been broken out of the contract, forcing cities to pay these items separately, so the cost varied, depending on the use. |
The steep increase in fees for dispatch (RiverCom) were a great cause for alarm for the cities, further straining budgets for public safety. Cities like Leavenworth explored ways to reduce RiverCom fees, such encouraging people with animal problems to call Animal Control rather than 911 so as to avoid the RiverCom charge.
Now, jail fees are front and center for cities. Two extremely large jail bills for Entiat and Cashmere prompted the mayors from Leavenworth, Cashmere, Entiat and Chelan to get together seeking solutions.
In Cashmere, jail fees were $32,707 in 2009, $21,400 in 2010, then $97,897 in 2011 and $64,719 in 2012.
"It is impossible to predict the cost of jail fees for budgetary purposes," said Jeff Gomes, Cashmere mayor. "In the past four years, Cashmere's jail fees have ranged from $21,400 to $97,897. Often, we are paying for long sentences because the incarcerated person had many prior convictions not committed in Cashmere."
One example Gomes points to is an individual who spent 220 days in jail for shoplifting, costing the city of Cashmere $73.50 per day. This is only made possible by prior convictions, not
committed in the city of Cashmere. But since this person was caught in Cashmere, he nets more jail time in Chelan County.
The unpredictability of the jail fees is a huge concern for the cities.
"That makes it really hard to budget," said Joel Walinski, Leavenworth city administrator. "What the mayors have been talking about..are there ways to flatline these costs? I know they met with the county prosecutor and Curt Lutz, the director of the jail. They were talking about having a conversation with the judges."
Jail fees in Leavenworth have remained fairly stable. In other words, there were not any real long term jail stays for people arrested in Leavenworth. In 2009, there were 67 inmates from Leavenworth, 56 in 2010, 55 in 2011 and 66 in 2012. Last year, the longest stays were 61 days and 41 days.
The average jail stay for someone arrested in Leavenworth has gone from 5.5 days in 2009 to 7.1 days in 2012. In Entiat, average stays have gone from 5.2 days in 2009 to 25.2 days in 2012. The jail fee bill in Entiat went from $1,800 in 2009 to $18,000 in 2012. In Cashmere, the average jail stay was 11 days in 2009. Now, it is 16 days.
"Once someone is arrested in our town, we lose complete control," said Cheri Kelley Farivar, Leavenworth mayor. "We have no idea when they are being sentenced, how they are being sentenced or how long they're going to be spending in Chelan County Jail. We really don't know how that works. That's a function of the court system."
Farivar is concerned what happened in Cashmere could happen in Leavenworth. Mainly due to two individuals, Cashmere's jail fees shot up to $90,000. When that is not budgeted for, it is an enormous shock to the system, she said. It cuts into your reserves and is very difficult to pay.
For some small towns, it might be near impossible to pay.
"It is particularly egregious for Entiat, which is a tiny town with a very limited budget," she said. "(Entiat Mayor) Keith Vradenberg made the comment, an excessive jail bill could cost the city of Entiat a full time employee because they have such a limited budget."
Gomes requested the cities get together and discuss this issue. Farivar said they are exploring ways to reduce the jail fees and get a better handle on them while they are occurring. One idea is to have the Chelan County Jailer inform the cities when someone has been sentenced to a long jail term.
Since the cities do not get the bill until the person has served the time, it makes for a rude surprise, she said. Another idea was to have a rolling average of the jail fees, so the cities don't get socked with a big bill unexpectedly. Farivar said they would like to have an input on sentencing, but is not sure that is possible.
Chelan County Prosecutor Doug Shae is supportive of doing anything he can to alleviate the situation, she said.
"That's when we became aware this is a judge by judge kind of issue," Farivar said. "We may end up asking to a meeting with the District and Superior Court judges to explain the unintended consequences of sentencing."
Gomes and Farivar both favor community service over incarceration in many cases. By doing community service, the individual could be serving the community which is paying for their incarceration.
"Two years ago, the Chelan County Court system dropped the use of community service hours in lieu of incarceration. We lose twice. We pay for jail time and do not get the benefit of community service hours," Gomes said. "Now the jail is talking of shutting down half the facility, partly due to Douglas County pulling out. With the same overhead cost, will the daily cost go up?"
Another option discussed was charging the persons arrested for the cost of incarceration. Farivar said that was ruled out because often these individuals are not in a position to pay. And further, who would collect from them?
If person is nabbed for major crime in the city, and goes to prison, that is not on the city's dime, she said.
"It's those offenders that spend time in Chelan County Jail. It's not an easy solution to resolve," Farivar said. "We think we can come to some kind of agreement with the county that will make it less of a shock. We're trying to avert a future event that might cost us a lot of money and being supportive of our neighboring cities."
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or email@example.com.
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