Closing the nearly 4-year-old county jail and seeking wage concessions from corrections officers are part of a plan by Yakima County to close a $9.3 million budget gap in the Department of Corrections.
YAKIMA — Closing the nearly 4-year-old county jail and seeking wage concessions from corrections officers are part of a plan by Yakima County to close a $9.3 million budget gap in the Department of Corrections.
Longer term, the county will put a for-sale sign this year on the 288-bed jail near State Fair Park and an empty minimum-security jail in Union Gap.
“We will be looking for bed-rental options as well as a purchaser on an equal basis,” said Kevin Bouchey, chairman of the Yakima County Commission.
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Commissioners laid out Thursday a short-term plan that also calls for using reserve funds and other measures in light of decisions late last year by King County cities to pull the bulk of 300 inmates out of the county jail system.
But they want to get out of the bed-rental business altogether.
Both the new jail and the Union Gap facility, in a former bowling alley near the Valley Mall, carry bond debt that must be paid off. Commissioners said they would not sell the buildings at a loss.
Sales of the structures would relieve Corrections Director Ed Campbell’s department of nearly $3 million in annual debt payments.
Commissioners have said the county made a mistake by building the jail to make money renting jail beds. “We can’t change the past but we can manage the future,” Commissioner Mike Leita said.
The county built the new jail, at a total cost of $20.6 million, to house the King County inmates under seven-year contracts.
King County inmates
Those contracts expired Dec. 31. Despite assurances they would be renewed — albeit with fewer inmates — most inmates were pulled out around Christmas and placed somewhere else. About 20 inmates from King County cities remain in the jail.
Some of the measures outlined already have been implemented, including laying off 34 people and eliminating 14 vacant positions, which will save about $3.3 million.
Closing the housing units in the new jail will reduce facility maintenance and utility costs by $500,000.
A state-of-the-art kitchen and a warehouse at the new jail will continue to operate to prepare meals for county jail inmates.
Commission Chairman Kevin Bouchey said closing the new jail is a precautionary step to reduce costs in a down market for bed rentals.
“To think that the market could come back at a level to open would not be a wise choice,” he said.
The request for wage concessions involves an additional $475,000.
Wayne Johnson, business representative for Teamsters Local 760 of Yakima, which represents corrections officers and some supervisors, said the membership will vote next week on the county’s request they forego a 5 percent wage increase, part of their contract.
If officers reject the concession, 20 additional people will be laid off.
Commissioners directed Campbell to use $1.2 million of a Corrections Department reserve he built up since taking over the county’s largest department 15 months ago.
Some $500,000 from the county’s general-fund reserve will help plug the hole.
Commissioners cautioned that a continued erosion in the department’s revenue could place a greater burden on general tax revenues and other departments in county government.
The county pays the department more than $10 million a year to house local inmates.
Another uncertainty in the plan is that Campbell must find enough new bed-rental customers to fill 21 beds, which means $670,000 in additional revenue.
“This is our road map as we understand it today,” Leita said. “As we go down that trail, there may be changes.”