In a proposed budget that anticipates new staff, small pay increases, a sizable insurance rate hike and much higher food costs, the regional jail is seeking a 16 percent increase in funding from its four member counties.
Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey is the overseeing sheriff of the adult side of the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility (NORCOR). He told the regional jail budget committee last month that the increase was requested because funding from the counties hasn’t gone up in four years.
NORCOR serves Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Hood River counties. Past requests for increased county funding, called subsidies —which cover not quite half the cost of running the jail— have been denied. Currently, the four counties pay $3.8 million. The request is for $4.5 million.
Hood River and Wasco counties have previously resisted increasing the subsidy. Hood River County Commissioner Bob Benton, who chairs the jail board, said his county was expecting the funding level to stay the same as this year.
“What do we need to keep this place open?” asked Sherman County Commissioner Tom McCoy, Sherman County’s representative on the board. “It looks like we need to do an increase.”
Benton replied that he was looking at what his county could afford to pay.
Wasco County is responsible for about half of the total subsidy. It now pays $1.9 million, and it would go up to $2.2 million in this scenario.
Lohrey said the increase is requested because of expected hikes in personnel costs and all other costs, from utilities to insurance to food service.
Insurance is going up 25 percent, which isn’t as bad as the 40 percent at other jails, Lohrey said.
The food service vendor said its cost would go up 67 percent, a fee officials said was unrealistic and unsustainable. They hope it will come down, but it will come back to the jail board for direction if it doesn’t.
The food service contract ends in June, and it would take 3-4 months to find a new company.
The budget also includes putting $100,000 into a newly created capital reserve fund, with a goal of eventually replacing aging equipment and systems at the 20-year-old jail. The money would be earmarked for replacing/repairing the roof.
The proposed annual general fund budget is set at $9.3 million, up from the current $8.1 million.
Proposed new staff on the adult side of the jail include a corrections technician, a mental health clinician, and an increase in nursing hours.
The plan is to pay for the mental health clinician with anticipated increased state grant funding, but jail board members questioned whether the state would actually increase those grant funds, and whether the counties, which receive them, would in turn agree to pass along that much to the jail.
The amount of the state grant, called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, won’t be known until sometime this month. The grant currently provides $85,000 on the adult side and has held at that rate for three years. The proposed budget anticipates it more than tripling, to $271,581.
In the juvenile detention facility, the budget proposes adding a case manager, which would be paid for from money from a new $125,000 contract with the Oregon Youth Authority.
The proposed budget includes a 1% cost of living increase for staff.
In addition to county funding, the jail also has a number of contracts that bring in revenue. The contract to house federal immigration detainees is expected to remain at $730,000.
The jail also contracts to house Benton County inmates, and since that county’s bond to build a new jail didn’t pass, that contract will continue for at least another two years, the budget message said.
The jail also rents a warehouse to Insitu, with income from that rental budgeted at $674,000.
Lohrey is also asking for $1,000 a month to go to Sherman County, to offset time he devotes to jail oversight.
When former Jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg resigned last year, the jail board agreed to not replace him and instead name a sheriff and a juvenile director to oversee the adult and juvenile facilities, respectively. Dan Lindhorst was promoted from lieutenant to commander.
In the beginning of the arrangement, the sheriffs said they did not want their counties to be compensated.
Now, Lohrey said, “I am saying the county of the sheriff should get something in return.”
That would bring them in line with the juvenile side, which already provides compensation to the county that provides the juvenile oversight person.
Wasco County’s juvenile director, Molly Rogers, provides juvenile oversight. The compensation to Wasco County for her time does not go to Rogers, but to the county.
Lohrey said he’s at the jail about twice a week, plus he takes phone calls, and he is putting wear and tear on the county vehicle driving to and from the jail. He spends about 10 hours a week on jail oversight.
Wasco County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone said, “We’re currently not compensating Molly and Brad … fundamentally I don’t believe that’s right.”
He said they were taking on responsibilities that are the responsibility of the jail itself.