Commentary about Columbia County Jail funding from the Board of County Commissioners

As we approach the voting deadline for the Columbia County Jail levy, our concern is for voters to have accurate information so they can make informed and responsible decisions.

by: FILE PHOTO - HydeHowever, there is one issue that continues to surface, and it gives us great pause. There seems to be confusion about payments made to the Columbia County Jail from the U.S. Marshals Service for bed rentals. Make no mistake, this arrangement has been very beneficial to both parties.

t has been suggested that the Columbia County Jail takes a financial loss by providing these prisoner holds. In fact, the arrangement takes a substantial bite out of the jail’s fixed costs. It costs $4.1 million to operate the jail; the U.S. Marshals Service prisoner holds contribute slightly more than half of the total operating budget at $2.3 million. Without this arrangement, that revenue would have to be made up from Columbia County’s general fund.

by: SUBMITTED - HeimullerAn article published by The Portland Mercury on March 19 summarized the U.S. Marshals Service holds in the Columbia County Jail as, “...moneymakers, subsidizing jail costs.”

Ironically, even though The Portland Mercury story is about the overcrowding problem currently vexing the Multnomah County Jail, they still hope to secure these U.S. Marshals Service prisoner holds — should the Columbia County Jail levy fail — because of the payments resulting from those holds. The Portland Mercury continues by making a revealing point: “The reduction places county officials in an odd spot — more or by: SUBMITTED - Fisherless crossing their fingers that a Columbia County levy will fail in May, forcing our neighbors to the northwest to shutter their own troubled jail.”

Multnomah County Deputy Budget Director Mike Jaspin is somewhat more tactful.”I don’t want to say ‘hoping,’” The Portland Mercury quotes him in the same article. “But if it were to fail, it’s reasonable to assume that some of those people might end up here.”

The Columbia County Jail currently charges the U.S. Marshals Service $78 per bed, per day. At 50 to 100 holds per day, this becomes savings against the jail’s fixed costs. It’s important to note that if the levy fails — and if the jail were to reopen in the future — this funding mechanism would probably not be available again to the Columbia County Jail. Any additional funding responsibilities would fall directly on the county.

In January, Sheriff Jeff Dickerson asked renowned jail design consultant Dave Hanlon — he was the design and construction manager of both jail facilities in Tillamook and Columbia counties — to return to the Columbia County Jail and review its efficiency standards. Hanlon accommodated the sheriff at no charge to the county and concluded in a written email exchange that the U.S. Marshals Service holds were instrumental in keeping down costs, “... your cost efficiency is very good,” he wrote. Mr. Hanlon continues, “... if you take into account the income from housing non-county prisoners, you are operating as efficiently as any jail I have ever seen!”

These U.S. Marshals Service holds are nothing but a gain for the Columbia County Jail and we hope this information is useful when considering how you’ll vote on the upcoming jail levy.

Columbia County Commissioners Tony Hyde, Earl Fisher and Henry Heimuller contributed this commentary.

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