MOUNT VERNON — It’s finally been decided: The county will build a new jail to replace the current overcrowded facility if voters agree to increases taxes to pay for it.
Members of the Skagit County Jail Coordinating Council, a group comprised of area mayors, judges and county commissioners, voted Friday not to house inmates outside of the county, an option to relieve jail crowding that had been supported by some on the council.
Only Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton did not vote in favor of the decision. However, he said he would continue to attend and contribute to the Jail Council meetings.
Last week, judges and court commissioners sent a letter to city councils across the valley urging them to eliminate inmate outsourcing as a long-term option. Judges have said in the past that sending inmates outside of the county or even to Eastern Washington can delay court hearings and reduce their access to public defenders.
Short-term outsourcing would be necessary while a jail is being constructed, the letter states, “However, long term outsourcing would not be cost effective, manageable or compatible with our system of justice in Skagit County and its cities.”
Current plans call for using a voter-approved sales tax to pay for the estimated $60 million jail, but the Jail Council has to decide the exact financing details.
The plan is to ask voters for a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase on the August ballot. The county would need to keep all of the money from that tax increase to pay for a new jail, which means cities that already have passed or are considering a local one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax would need to relinquish that money.
During Friday’s meeting, Skagit County Superior Court Judge Michael Rickert apologized for cursing during the last Jail Council meeting. He said that he was frustrated with the slow progress of the group.
“Sometimes I think in the course of this council, we have too much tail for the kite, and we’re pulling the kite down,” Rickert said. “I think the kite could fly with all of us working together. There’s a lot of good minds in this council.”
Rickert said he also wants to make sure the cities won’t face the threat of having nowhere to put their inmates in the near future. He emphasized the need to work together toward a common end.
“It’s not us verses them (the county verses the city); it’s bad people out there who need to be locked up,” Rickert said.
The county sheriff recently sent letters to the cities to start talks about the possibility of putting a hard-and-fast cap on how many people could be in the jail at one time. Skagit County Commissioners have allocated $625,000 this year to pay for additional jail space in Snohomish County — $400,000 more than last year.
As it stands, the county will admit inmates who are a danger to society, but that means many who commit lesser crimes are set free. People who do not attend scheduled court hearings often will not appear because they know they won’t be arrested.
The Jail Council also will decide where to locate the new jail. Three sites are being considered: Gunn Road, the Truck City site on Old Highway 99 and the Alf Christianson Seed property across from the jail on Kincaid Street.
The next Jail Council meeting will be held Feb. 8.