The foundation of county government serves public safety, public health, public education, and public roads. However, it appears our county leaders have lost sight of these cornerstones of governance. Recently, there’s been news as to the Sheriff’s inability to manage his budget and provide boat safety, services for litter crew, and courthouse security screening. The program costs have been provided and subsidized by the Sheriff’s Office. These costs are miniscule in comparison to the bigger issue for not only the Sheriff’s Office but for the county budget. The elephant in the room is the Mason County Jail.
Mason County and the city of Shelton share one jail. A jail built in 1983 that is outdated, overcrowded, and has no capacity for the needs of the courts and law enforcement. While the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) have created a hubbub over tipping fees and cost overruns for courthouse security, the bigger issue should be the increasing costs to outsource inmates. In 2014, the criminal justice stakeholders identified it as the key concern and crisis to public safety. At that time, the county paid $41,000 to outsource inmates to other counties. In 2015, the outsourcing climbed to almost $650,000. Now, it’s projected to cost the county over $1.3 million dollars for inmates to be sent to Nisqually, Forks, and Lewis County Jails. Our crisis is the jail – along with the court’s inability to hold offenders accountable for criminal behaviors. The need for space will not lessen.
The courts are faced with offenders who can’t serve sentences; probation violations that cannot be imposed; warrants can’t be served, and there are little or no alternatives for incarceration for low-level offenders. The county has not adequately maintained this aging facility; and it is no place for our mentally ill and untreated veterans.
The Sheriff has been accused of being “given” so much money he should be “drunk on money”. The Sheriff has the greatest responsibility for public safety and the most liability as a law enforcement agency and jail. He has shown a marked reduction in crime with all the hard work of his patrol and corrections deputies. It hardly appears our taxes dollars are being squandered.
Mason County Courts struggle to maintain the level of services and manage their cases loads. The total average increase for the elected offices that serve criminal justice have gone up 25% over the past 4 years. However, over that same period of time, expenditures for Central Operations, Human Resources, and the Commissioners line items have increased over 100%. These 3 line items are under the direct control of the BOCC. How can this be responsible fiscal management? What does that say about the priorities of the county commissioner when dollars allocated to public resources pales in comparison to human resources staff and central services?
In 2014, the BOCC created a citizen’s based public safety task force comprised of criminal justice professionals. This committee along with the input from the criminal justice stakeholders identified the jail as the primary concern and need for public safety in Mason County. The committee submitted its findings and recommendation to the BOCC. To date, these recommendations appear to have fallen on deaf ears. I chaired this committee; and it’s frustrating to see the hard work of our committee members ignored.
It’s important that the citizens speak up and insist there be transparency from our BOCC leadership; not half-truths. The Sheriff has been a trusted citizen of this community for 50 years. He’s been elected 3 times to protect our citizens. Casey Salisbury and his staff have worked diligently to provide safety and security to the best of the ability with the resources provided. Look beyond the unfounded and unsubstantiated accusations of mismanagement; find the “rest of the story” and support those leaders who believe in transparency, leadership, and community partners to solve problems.
Kelley McIntosh, Belfair