Cuts may lead to Clallam chain gang consolidation
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Chain gangs, which provide trail and roadside maintenance and litter control, are half-funded by the county road department and half-funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Ecology.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a $21,000 agreement with the Forest Service to continue chain gang services for the rest of this year.
That’s a $14,800 reduction from the original allocation because of the sequester, jail Superintendent Ron Sukert said.
Meanwhile, Ecology’s $69,101 appropriation for litter control and dump site removal has been reduced to $43,766.
“So the chain gang, essentially in grant monies, is taking a little better than a $40,000 hit,” Sukert said in a Monday work session.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said the program can weather the cuts for the remainder of the year.
However, Benedict said, “the reality is we’re probably going to have to reduce the chain gang from three to two next year.”
Nonviolent, low-risk offenders in the county jail can apply to work on the chain gangs in exchange for a reduced sentence and the satisfaction of a job well done.
The crews pull scotch broom, weed roadside shoulders, trim hedges, paint and weed around guardrails, clear brush and assist in flood and erosion-control projects.
So far this year, the Clallam County chain gangs have combined to pick up 50,247 pounds of trash from dump sites, 483 miles of county roadway and 66 miles of Forest Service roads and trails.
Chain gangs helped blaze the 25-mile Olympic Discovery Trail Adventure Route, a wilderness detour from the Elwha River Valley to Lake Crescent.
They also free up valuable jail space.
“These are important programs,” Benedict said.
“They really are. But the reality is we’re probably going to be fixed with having two.
“But I think we can get the same amount of work done if we expand the size of one.”
Assuming the road department wants to continue funding the program, County Administrator Jim Jones said the plan is to have “two really good, robust chain gangs.”
“But we won’t have a third one,” he said.
Because of attrition, the consolidation will not result in layoffs, Benedict said.
Commissioner Mike Doherty urged jail staff to send letters to the Peninsula’s congressional delegation and 24th District legislators that give examples of “the good work that the chain gang does” to try to fund them through Ecology and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: August 20. 2013 4:52PM