Sharethe cash, share the jail

Published on Thu, Feb 24, 2005 by eg Olson

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Share the cash, share the jail

By Meg Olson

Whatcom County is asking cities to invest in building the new interim jail facility in Bellingham in exchange for jail credit that could more than triple their investment over eight years.

“The county can solve the jail problem,” county deputy administrator Dewey Dessler told Blaine city council February 14. “The executive is doing this to provide assistance to the cities.”

he proposal Dessler brought to Blaine was met with enthusiasm in Bellingham, and he said he had plans to address all other Whatcom County city councils. Rather than going to the bond market to borrow $2.26 million or dipping further into rural sales tax coffers, the county will ask the cities to contribute the funds based on population and historic jail use. Blaine’s contribution would need to be just under $100,000.

The county would pitch in another $2.6 million for construction and use the $868,000 of newly approved correction facilities tax collected in 2005 to build the 145-bed facility that will contain minimum security overflow from the aging county jail until a new one can be built to open in January 2014.

In return for their investment the cities would get jail credits to house their inmates that would increase four percent every year for eight years, with Blaine getting $38,774 in 2006. The city’s total credits would come to over $350,000 after eight years.

The county would use the correction facilities tax to cover increased operating expenses associated with those credits as the cities send more and more people to jail.

City manager Gary Tomsic said the small cities caucus had first approached the county about how to handle their increased costs associated with more room in jail. “They came up with this plan and I think we come out pretty well,” he said.

With cities responsible for people convicted of misdemeanors and the county picking up the tab for felons, cities have had less and less people in jail as space became tight. Today, Dessler said, 80 percent of inmates in the county jail are felons. With adequate jail space it should get back to 50 percent.

Even though cities are anticipated to pay $10 less per bed per day in the new jail due to efficiency savings, police chief Mike Haslip said if officers can get more potentially dangerous suspects in jail, they will. “Our figures are bound to go up,” he said.

Dessler said the county was looking for an answer by this summer and Blaine mayor John Liebert said council would schedule further discussion of the proposal.