Columbia County Commissioners Will Seek Jail Operations Levy

Commissioners discuss jail operations, more at Vernonia coffee event

CoffeeCommissioners-webFrom county furlough days to FEMA trailers and operation of the Columbia County Jail, the July 26 coffee klatch with county commissioners Tony Hyde, Earl Fisher and Henry Heimuller touched on a wide range of topics. The event was held at the Black Bear Coffee Company in Vernonia.

With funds tight for the county, commissioners decided several years ago to close the courthouse to the public on Fridays, to accommodate 26 furlough days. County employees work every other Friday, using the non-public contact time to catch up on tasks set aside during the non-working Friday, Heimuller said. “They don’t have to answer questions; they don’t have to answer the phone. They can concentrate on getting their work done,” he said.

Although the public may have less contact with county employees, Heimuller said that employees are learning to wear more hats and do more.

County jail operations

The 260-bed jail currently houses 105 prisoners. The majority –80— are inmates that the U.S. Marshals Service houses in the Columbia County Jail for $75 per bed, per day.

“Without those beds, we would have closed the jail two years ago,” Heimuller said.

This leaves 25 beds for individuals arrested inside Columbia County. The funding is not there to utilize the rest of the beds. “The jail was built with rentals in mind,” Hyde told the assembled group.

In November, the commissioners will send voters a jail operation levy – approximately $.55 to $.60 per thousand in assessed property value. If approved, that funding will be earmarked strictly for jail operations, Fisher said.

“There won’t be anything with the sheriff’s office, no patrol funding [in this levy attempt],” Heimuller said.

Heimuller said that the jail is operating on funding meant for 35-38 beds, and that there’s a lot that goes into supervision and care for inmates once they are housed in the county jail. Caring for inmates is not limited just to provision of food, shelter and clothing either. For example, when inmates come into the jail, the county must provide medical care and pay for it, regardless of whether the inmate has insurance or not. “If someone comes in and they need dialysis or chemo, we have to pay for that,” he said.

Every day, jail personnel must videotape every interaction with inmates and must record a visual check on each inmate every single hour. “If someone is missing from a visual check, the jail is fined,” Heimuller said.

Community members touched on the desire to require bicyclists have some sort of licensing or registration and commissioners revealed that they will entertain offers for FEMA trailers that have been in Vernonia, in light of an upcoming auction for those trailers.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners meets every Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM in room 308.


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