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Approaching 3-year mark, JOCAC reports jail is 'extremely well run'

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Gery Fiebich, a corrections deputy at the Columbia County Jail, unloads a meal cart for inmates. Fiebich is one of several jail deputies hired after the county approved of a three-year levy to fund jail operations. In May 2014, the citizens of Columbia County approved a tax levy — Measure 5-238 — to provide an operating levy to operate the Columbia County Jail for three years. One provision of this levy was the creation of the Jail Operations Citizens Advisory Committee (JOCAC). The county commissioners appointed 10 citizen volunteers to the committee. They represent a diverse cross section of the county, including members that voted for and members that voted against the levy.

The committee began meeting in August 2014 and met monthly through May 2015. After May 2015, the committee met quarterly and, starting in January 2016, the committee is back to meeting monthly. The purpose of the committee is to review the expenditures of the Sheriff’s Office Jail Division as it relates to the levy and to monitor those levy funds and how they are being used. The committee operates under Oregon public meeting rules and takes comments from the public in attendance.

Although the committee’s only charge is to advise the sheriff and the Board of County Commissioners “concerning the proper appropriation of jail levy funds,” the committee believes the knowledge it has gained over the past 20 months on jail financing and operations should be shared with the citizens of Columbia County.

Summary

The committee members began their function by educating themselves on the budget and jail operations. The committee received a thorough briefing on the budget and the plans the sheriff had for personnel hires and equipment replacement/upgrades. The committee also toured the jail and received detailed briefings on all aspects of the “how” and “why” of jail operations. Follow-up meetings provided the committee with updated budget and equipment purchases as well as updates on hiring progress from the sheriff.

One of the reasons this committee was formed was to provide verification that all funds raised by the levy were spent on jail operations. In examining county quarterly and year-end financial reports, the committee has verified that all funds raised by the levy, and all other funds raised for jail operations, have either been spent on jail operations or are in an account reserved for jail operations only.

The goal of the levy was to support a jail to house offenders in Columbia County and with sufficient capability to eliminate early releases. This goal was fully met on March 12, 2015, with the cessation of early releases; the local jail population increased from 25 at the time of the levy passage to 68 on June 30, 2015, and to 81 on March 6, 2016.

The committee learned that several years of underfunded operations necessitated capital projects to maintain safe, efficient and cost-effective operation of the jail. Two of those projects, a new jail management system and a new transport vehicle, are summarized in this report.

An uncertainty of continued operation of the jail prior to passage of the levy led to the loss of several deputies. The rigorous and time-consuming process for a person to become a certified deputy is described in this report.

The committee analyzed the 2015-2016 jail operating budget to determine the additional cost to the county for housing U.S. Marshals Service inmates. A thorough reading of the section on housing U.S. Marshals inmates will explain why this expense is only $9 per day, per inmate.

The committee believes the Columbia County Jail is extremely well run. The sheriff, jail commander and deputies are professional and are mindful of the community’s welfare; they treat inmates with an understanding that they will eventually return to the community. In the last biennial inspection by the Department of Corrections, they were found to be 100 percent in compliance. They also scored 100 percent on the last annual U.S. Marshals Service inspection. On the last biennial Oregon State Sheriffs' Association comprehensive inspection in January 2015, they were found in compliance with 306 of 308 standards, and are now in compliance with the remaining two.

Jail Operations Citizens Advisory Committee

Richard Lager, Chair

Warren

Gregory Lines, Vice Chair

St. Helens

Greg Hinkelman

Clatskanie

Jamie Maygra

Deer Island

Jeff Auxier

Scappoose

Harvey Bilton

St. Helens

Lester Kahr

Clatskanie

Dennis Kenna

Rainier

Rita Bernhard

Scappoose

Dave Crawford

Mist