Jail fees are rising, but cities catch a small break
EVERETT — Many city budget writers were stunned when an updated fee schedule for the county jail came out.
The revised fee plans from the sheriff’s office came to them in mid-November, well into budget season, and they contained a notable price jump for housing an inmate.
The surprise didn’t appear to be intentional. Sheriff’s office Finance Manager Dawn Cicero said the sheriff’s office outlined the fee adjustments in the summer to the Snohomish County Sheriff and Police Chiefs Association.
“The city police chiefs are responsible for passing this information along to their city managers and mayors,” Cicero said.
County Council members intervened with a unanimous vote Dec. 21 to spread out the increases: The council limited the proposed fee increase to half for 2021, with the full fee schedule coming into effect for 2022.
Sending inmates to jail will still cost cities more than in 2020.
The housing fee will be $142.63 per day, under the limits set by the council.
It is lower than the flat rate first proposed at $182 per day.
The base rate until this change was $103 per day. However, the sheriff’s office was using a three-tier fee system, where on top of the base rate, the jail was charging either an additional $60 per day to a city if the inmate needed healthcare services, or $143.25 additional per day if the inmate required mental health services.
The sheriff’s office is reverting back to a flat rate to follow what most other jails are doing, Cicero said. The 2021 fee schedule also has a 1.5 percent increase for booking an inmate and a per-hour fee increase of 4.35 percent for presenting an inmate for court by video.
The initially proposed fees would have raised a bit over $2.5 million in additional money for the jail system.
“The proposed jail fees increased to align with actual direct costs,” Cicero said.
Labor costs jumped: the corrections bureau’s employee union last year bargained for a cumulative 10.87% pay increase and speciality pay for longevity, Cicero said.
Jail bookings are way down during the pandemic. Everett Police, for example, estimates jail bookings are down 40 percent.
County Council Chair Nate Nehring said by email the fee increases are “so that the county is not subsidizing the costs of other entities,” meaning contracted cities. “I am supportive of that effort to achieve full cost-recovery and appreciate the Sheriff’s Office for making that a priority. “
He supported the delay. By delaying the full fee increases to 2022, Nehring said that cities will be better able to plan the increases into their 2022 budgets.
The costs add up. The jail bills the city for handling an inmate.
For a city such as Monroe, its sample jail bill in October was $29,000, but this would have been $38,000 if the county jail charged its fee plan of $182 per day, Deputy Chief Ryan Irving told Monroe’s City Council on Dec. 1.
The proposed $182-a-day rate was explained to the chiefs as averaging all of the inmate costs for all types of inmates in the old tier system. Communities such as Lake Stevens cried foul to the formula. Not all communities are jailing many inmates who have mental health or healthcare needs, Lake Stevens Police Chief John Dyer wrote to a county official.
Monroe, for example, would have needed to adjust the budget plan to find $140,000 more to pay for jail fees.
Everett grappled with predicting their jail costs for 2021. It allocated $5.3 million for its jail fee budget this year on the belief bookings would stay around 2020 levels, and predicted it would
have needed to set aside over $6 million if jail bookings rose back to 2019, pre-pandemic crime activity levels.
Now with county jail fees lowered for 2021, Everett believes it can reduce its 2021 jail budget to less than what it has allocated, city spokeswoman Kimberley Cline said last week.
While police chiefs were told about the jail fee increases, it appears the sheriff’s office didn’t send a memo simultaneously to city finance planners.
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, for example, wrote to county officials saying Mukilteo couldn’t easily accommodate the increased budget cost now, considering that its council had already approved the 2021 budget.
Can a city limit its exposure to jail fee costs? Yes — by being more selective about who goes to jail. During Everett’s budget planning talks, Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman explained that this could mean limiting whether some misdemeanor crimes result in booking.
Other avenues are alternative-to-jail programs, and to have judges assign people to electronic home monitoring more often as an alternative to staying in jail.
A city’s other options are to contract with other jails, like what Everett does, or have its own city jail, like Marysville and Lynnwood have.
The new rates at the Snohomish County Jail are less than the rates charged by King County Jail and Skagit County Jail, Cicero noted.
Everett has contracts to send inmates to Yakima County Jail and the SCORE facility jail in Renton. Few inmates are transported to those locations, in part because it ties up an officer to drive the inmate there.
Washington state is one of nine states that don’t allow judges to bill the inmate for jail stays, from a 2014 NPR investigation on financial burdens imposed by the justice system.
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