After years of having their inmates housed in the Klickitat County Jail in Goldendale, the cities of Bingen and White Salmon will have arrestees who have been charged with misdemeanors shipped off to the Skamania County Jail in Stevenson come April 1.
After months of wheeling and dealing between White Salmon, Bingen and the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, progress towards making an agreement on the cities' jail contracts ended abruptly on March 20, when Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes received a letter from KCSO Chief Jail Deputy Ken Berry. The missive stated that the KCSO was done negotiating. The following is an excerpt from said letter:
As agreed to in January of this year, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office was able to extend Housing services through the end of March, 2012, outside the terms of a formal Agreement. Unfortunately, mutual acceptance of the terms and format of a Housing Agreement were not able to be reached and it has become clear that mutual acceptance of the Agreement terms will not be reached prior to March 31, 2012.
At this time, I would like to formally close negotiations so that you may have an opportunity to seek alternative service providers for your Inmate Housing needs. Effective April 1, 2012, the Klickitat County Jail will be unable to accept inmates on behalf of the City of Bingen.
The letter was received three hours before the start of the March 20 Bingen city council meeting and copies were distributed to City Administrator Jan Brending, City Attorney Tad Connors and city council members. All seemed shocked by the letter.
"I don't know why the [Klickitat County] sheriff's department is taking this kind of attitude," a miffed Connors said during the meeting.
"This is surprising," echoed Council Member Catherine Kiewit. "The tone is surprising, I guess."
Both Connors and White Salmon City Attorney Ken Woodrich wanted to extend negotiations with the KCSO. Barnes had David Spratt -- a man of many hats who is Bingen's volunteer fire chief, public works director and a reserve officer for the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department -- call Sheriff Rick McComas to speak about the jail contract. Barnes said Spratt did not receive an answer, until Barnes received the letter.
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher was also taken aback by the KCSO correspondence and said he too had attempted to contact McComas and did not receive an answer.
"To be honest with you, we were all surprised," said Poucher during a phone interview with The Enterprise last Friday. "It caught me by surprise."
Both Bingen and White Salmon have had their own contracts with KCSO that are what Connors called "mirror contracts," meaning they are identical. Both cities have been without a contract for over a year (Poucher was unsure of the exact date) and the KCSO has been operating off the terms of the expired contract since then.
The cities also had entered negotiations with the Skamania County Sheriff's Office, to keep their options open. Initially, the cities wanted to go with the KCSO since Bingen and White Salmon exist in the county and because Poucher said that both municipalities have housed their inmates at the Klickitat County Jail as far back as he can remember. Though misdemeanor offenders will have to go to Stevenson, those charged with felonies will still be shipped off to Goldendale.
Connors said in the March 20 Bingen city council meeting that one of the sticking points in the contract negotiations was due to the KCSO desiring to contract with the B-WSPD. He iterated that this scenario can't happen.
"The biggest problem was still, they wanted to contract with the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department and they just really can't," Connors explained. "They have to have one contract with each city -- the city has to be the contracting agency and that concept just didn't seem to work for them."
"You can't do that," he said. "That'd be like contracting with the water department."
According to Berry, the KCSO knows the contracts are with the cities and recently signed an inmate housing agreement with the city of Goldendale. However, the KCSO was able to negotiate the contract through the Goldendale Police Department and not through city government.
"We wanted to negotiate with the police because they would be the ones actually dealing with this," Berry explained. "The mayor's not the one to haul people off to jail."
Berry said the KCSO had wanted a new contract because it was no longer able to sustain the relatively low rates it charged cities for jail services compared to the cost of housing the inmates. Berry said the KCSO needed to increase its rates.
"It costs more to house inmates than we actually charge," said Berry. "The county wants us to stop subsidizing municipalities."
"The county commissioners told us to 'spend less or find more,'" Berry added.
Klickitat County Commissioners Rex Johnston and David Sauter both confirmed they gave this directive to not only the sheriff's office, but to other county departments as well.
"We do not spend more than we make," Johnston said. "We are looking out for the citizens of the county. We cannot live beyond our means."
Sauter agreed and said that a tight budget means the county can no longer afford to subsidize inmate housing costs for municipalities at past levels. He says it's unfair to county taxpayers that don't live in the cities and that jail costs are a significant amount of the county budget.
"The county taxpayers should not be subsidizing city taxpayers," Sauter said. "We don't want to be subsidizing city prisoners."
McComas came to the commissioners and said rates needed to be raised. Sauter said he was unsure how the inmate housing contract rates compared to other sheriffs offices'. McComas was contacted multiple times by The Enterprise for this story. KCSO staff said that he was out of the office.
Bingen and White Salmon have budgeted a combined $28,000 for inmate housing costs for 2012. That money will now be going to Skamania County since White Salmon signed a year-long jail contract with the SCSO last week. Barnes has not yet signed a contract with the SCSO, but Brending expected the mayor would be doing so soon.
Poucher said that he is looking forward to housing inmates with the SCSO because Stevenson is closer than Goldendale and because the terms of the contract were more affordable.
"They gave us a wonderful offer," he said.