New sheriff takes on jail contract talks

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Sheriff Rick Scott says he’s taking proposed revisions to the county’s jail contract with its municipalities back to the drawing board and hopes to meet personally with each municipal police chief to come up with a compromise.

On Monday, at Scott’s first recommendation as sheriff, the county commissioners officially extended the current contract until Jan. 15. The contract was set to expire on Oct. 25. Without a contract extension, the cities would have had to look elsewhere to house their prisoners.

“This gives me an opportunity to meet with the cities and establish a work group … to help us resolve issues that plague us,” Scott told the commissioners, noting the extension also gives the cities more time to review suggestions and take them back to their city attorneys and councils.

Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson and Montesano Mayor Ken Estes had both attended Monday’s commission meeting, ready to lambaste the county about more delays in the contract negotiations. The mayors have been highly critical of communication with the county commissioners for more than a year now, using the jail contract as their latest highlighted issue.

“This is an excellent idea and I know we’ll be working hard on it,” Estes said.

County Commissioner Mike Wilson praised Scott’s decision, noting “it makes a lot of sense for law professionals to sit down” rather than politicians.

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

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.

The mayors had no issues with the daily raises, but did have issues with some language in the proposed contract, as well as whether the cities should pay for the medical costs of felons in the county jail. That would be new expense to the cities.