Medical costs for prisoners still an issue in jail contract

Just minutes after receiving the county’s revised jail contract, Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines had already spotted differences of opinion so big they’ll likely send the issue back to the drawing board with less than a month to go before jail contracts between the county and every city on the Harbor are set to expire.

“I thought we had decided to forgo conversations on the cities paying for medical until another time, but there it is in the contract — again,” Raines said. “We waited weeks and weeks for this?”

Conversations about the jail contract started back in May. The county commissioners canceled the contract, effective Oct. 25, and decided to negotiate a new one to pass on more expenses to the cities. The cities pay daily fees at the county jail to keep prisoners there.

On Monday, the county commissioners reviewed a revised contract and voted to allow the Sheriff to present it.

All of this came at the same time the mayors of the Harbor sent a letter to the commissioners calling the county out on dragging its feet five weeks after both sides had met and agreed to terms of a temporary contract, according to the letter.

“As of this time frame, no draft contract for review has been provided and there has been no communication from the county,” states the letter sent Monday morning, about six hours before the contract arrived.

The letter is signed by Raines, Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson, Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, Elma Mayor Dave Osgood, Montesano Mayor Ken Estes, Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, Westport Mayor Michael Bruce, and McCleary Mayor Gary Dent. Oakville’s costs are absorbed by the county because of a contract to provide police services there.

The mayors first went public with their frustrations in negotiating the jail contract last week during a county commissioner meeting. The mayors have sent letters and helped their cities with resolutions for more than a year now criticizing the commissioners for communication issues.

“When negotiating between parties, the work should be done in good faith with a desire to reach a conclusion mutually acceptable to both,” the letter states. “The cities are simply asking for this courtesy and professionalism. In the end, this responsibility rests with the county commissioners as the legal contract representatives of the county. The lack of action rests with the commission chairwoman, Terry Willis. The urgency of this dilemma has been artificially and perhaps intentionally created by the termination of the contract by the county — followed by the county’s failure to negotiate in good faith in a timely manner.”

The contract provided by the county calls for a $5 daily increase to what the county currently charges cities to house prisoners. That would raise the cost from $65 to $70, the first such increase in probably two decades, Sheriffs officials have said, noting the true cost of housing a prisoner exceeds $90 per day.

The new contract also calls for an annual rate boost based on 75 percent of the consumer price index for the Seattle area, with a minimum of 1 percent and not to exceed 3 percent.

Raines said the mayors have no problems with the $5 rate jump or the annual increases. There remains an issue as to whether the cities should pay for the medical costs of felons in the county jail. That’s a new expense and it was in the latest contract revision provided on Monday.

“It shouldn’t be there,” Raines said. “We had agreed to discuss this separately but there it is.”

Aberdeen Police Chief Bob Torgerson and Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers agreed with Raines’ assertion that the medical issue was to be discussed later. The Daily World asked Willis about the medical issue in the contract and she confirmed it was still there. She said she didn’t think it was an issue.

Raines said the mayors sent the letter to the commissioners Monday morning because a deadline they had given to the commissioners for 10 a.m. Friday had come and gone without word from the county.

Willis sent an email to the mayors Monday afternoon, “Please find attached the latest draft of the proposed inmate contract. I had hoped to have it completed and available to you by last Friday, as discussed with Mayor Raines, but felt it needed to be reviewed by all the Commissioners at this morning’s workshop meeting before sending it out. Changes were made to the draft that reflect issues discussed at our first meeting.”