By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Sheriff Bill Benedict proposed changing the daily per-inmate rate to an annual fee to provide more budget predictability for the cities and the county.
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.
Benedict told the three commissioners Monday that moving back to a flat fee is “the right thing to do.”
“We've got some other metrics that we're going to look at that will ensure that nobody is taking advantage of the flat fee,” Benedict said in a board work session.
“The amount of effort that we put into billing, both on our side and on the side of the city and particularly Port Angeles, amounts to almost one half an FTE [full-time equivalent employee] because this billing is fairly complex.”
Under a contract amendment that commissioners will consider next week, the city of Port Angeles will pay the county $632,142 this year for housing and medical services at the jail.
“What that represents is the midpoint between what they budgeted and what we budgeted,” Benedict said.
“It's about $30,000 less than what we budgeted and about $30,000 above what they budgeted. And I think that's a fair approach.”
“I've made the same offer to the city of Sequim,” Benedict added.
“They're looking at their flat fee for this year to be $240,000.”
The fees are based on the number of inmates who come to the regional jail from a given jurisdiction.
The city of Forks has its own jail.
Commissioners said they would schedule another work session to discuss a flat fee for the two cities in 2015 and beyond.
“We have roughly 3,200 bookings a year, and of those 3,200 bookings, about 1,100 or 1,200 are [from] Port Angeles, and that has been constant for the last six years since we expanded the jail,” Benedict said.
“And we've seen that their billings have gone up fairly significantly, and particularly the first part of this year.”
McKeen in June told the Port Angeles City Council that jail costs were expected to be about $300,000 more than a budgeted $600,000.
“What the sheriff is proposing will allow all of us within the county to have some predictability on the jail side of the house for criminal justice costs,” McKeen told commissioners Monday.
About 95 percent of jail costs are fixed, Benedict said, meaning it costs the county about the same amount to run the jail regardless of how many inmates are held there.
“To protect the county, there needs to be some type of ongoing evaluation with those metrics to make sure that fixed costs are being covered,” McKeen said.
“But we enjoy the service that is provided by the county to the city. We're just looking for some predictability in the budget, and I believe that this will do that.”
'Predictability is good'
Commissioner Jim McEntire said he supported the proposal.
“Predictability is good,” he said.
“Reducing the admin [administrative] component of this effort that goes into this is certainly good. The biggest thing for me is this moves, or advances, the concept that law and justice is kind of a system.”
Commissioner Mike Doherty said he would support the proposal but suggested a provision that would ensure that the cities share in the future cost of replacing the 35-year-old jail.
“At the end of the day, somebody's going to have to have a sinking fund or something to create a fund to pay for a new jail because I don't think the grants are going to be there in the future with the current philosophical mix in the federal and the state government,” Doherty said.
Benedict said the jail could be used for at least another 15 years.
May vote no
Commissioner Mike Chapman said he “may plan to vote no” on a flat fee because the cities asked the county for a daily rate about five years ago.
“I personally bought the argument back then and supported it,” Chapman said.
“I don't plan to get into it today, but if you have two votes, you can move forward.”
No vote was taken Monday.
The city of Port Angeles pays the county $67 per day to house an inmate under an agreement that was signed in February 2009.
Benedict said he was convinced to return to a flat fee because of the “remarkable consistency” of police bookings among the jurisdictions.
“We're within a couple percentage points of bookings per agency per year over the last five years,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.