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City, Sheriff butt heads over jail pitch

A Columbia County Sheriff's Office proposal to charge cities extra money to reserve jail beds continues to concern St. Helens and Scappoose Municipal Court Judge Diana Shera Taylor, who's now supportive of a September summit to discuss the topic.

Taylor warned the St. Helens City Council last week that Sheriff Jeff Dickerson's proposal would lead to increased lawlessness. She said it has become difficult to enforce probation violations since he announced his plans earlier in the month.

Municipal courts typically handle people charged with city citations, along with misdemeanors and probation violations, which can lead to jail time.

'The misdemeanors in this city are not minor matters,' Taylor told Council.

She referenced an incident in which a man was beaten over the head with a tire iron. The man's attacker pleaded down to misdemeanor attempted assault and was convicted in Taylor's court.

Dickerson said he hopes the Sept. 9 summit creates a dialogue about the county jail's financial struggles. The Sheriff's Office has funding to fill 150 jail beds and is currently over capacity. There are 210 beds in the jail.

He told city officials last week that his intention is not to 'charge' cities for average use, but allow them the option to pay more to reserve unbudgeted beds at the jail. Dickerson said St. Helens used 25 jail beds in July.

Dickerson's explanation elicited skepticism from some city officials.

'It sounds like you're just going to charge the cities,' said City Administrator Chad Olsen.

The plan, which has no dollar figure attached to it yet, comes after Dickerson instituted an early-release program at the jail. That program began July 16 and has led to 18 inmates being let out early.

Four of those releases came without approval of St. Helens Municipal Court.

One of the inmates released without Judge Taylor's approval was Josh Lee Taylor, who police once again arrested less than two weeks ago on theft and probation violation charges after he was suspected of stealing his neighbor's drill and barricading himself in his home while using 'synthetic drugs.'

Judge Taylor said she would not have released him.

Dickerson stopped short of saying he'd give priority bed use to the U.S. Marshal's Office, which pays the Sheriff's Office $2.4 million per year to secure 85 jail beds.

'This is not about prioritization by a court or by a city,' Dickerson said. 'This is primarily an economic issue.'

There are currently 794 people on probation in St. Helens all of whom are processed through the Municipal Court.

By the numbers:

$3.3 million: What the county spends on the jail.

$2.4 million: What the Sheriff's Office receives from the U.S. Marshals to reserve 85 jail beds.

$63 per day: The estimated cost of each inmate at the jail.

150: The number of jail beds the county has budgeted.