By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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A flat rate would provide more budget certainty for all three jurisdictions and help the city of Port Angeles contain its rising jail costs, Benedict told two county commissioners during a work session Monday.
Under the proposal, the amount that the cities pay the county to house misdemeanor defendants in the 120-bed jail would be capped at a budgeted amount.
“I like predictability in the budget, and so do the cities,” Benedict said.
Neither of the two commissioners objected to the idea, the details of which need to be ironed out.
Port Angeles City Manager Dan McKeen has been working with Benedict to determine why the city’s jail costs have been rising steadily for the past seven years.
“Port Angeles is paying more, but they have the same number of arrests, bookings and cases,” Benedict said.
“Sequim hasn’t seen the same upward trend.”
McKeen told the city council last week that “positive steps” have been taken since a June 24 work session in which council members learned that jail costs for city municipal court cases were expected to be $300,000 over a budgeted $650,000.
Clallam County District Court 1 Judge Rick Porter announced June 25 that he would provide more timely court access to city attorneys, which results in lower jail costs.
Porter also changed the metrics he uses to calculate standard sentencings for property crimes, a move that City Attorney Bill Bloor predicted would help over the long term.
Port Angeles, Sequim and Clallam County use the same municipal court system — Clallam County District Court No. 1 — for misdemeanor cases.
“I suspect that there has been some kind of unintended consequence of the split billing that has shifted more of the cost of incarceration to Port Angeles than is warranted by statute or practice,” Benedict wrote in a July 8 letter to McKeen.
About 95 percent of cost to run the county jail are fixed, Benedict said.
“This is really not a new concept,” said County Administrator Jim Jones, who has discussed the idea of a flat jail rate with several Port Angeles city managers.
“It would help all of us.”
Commissioner Jim McEntire said he favors “equity and predictability” in jail costs.
Commissioner Mike Doherty said he liked the general idea, adding, “I also think we should monitor this.”
The third county commissioner, Mike Chapman, was absent from Monday’s work session.
“We have six months to come up with a method of how we would do it,” Benedict said.
In other board discussion, commissioners reviewed a mid-year budget that shows the county’s $32.7 million general fund is projected to be $103,200 to the positive.
Jones and county Budget Director Debi Cook will present the mid-year projections in a public hearing today.
The hearing will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the public meeting room (Room 160) on the main floor of the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.