Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza delivered an ultimatum Monday to the Board of County Commissioners: Fully restore his law enforcement budget, or he’ll keep the new jail mothballed for another year.
“Leadership sometimes requires one to take a stand, even if it’s an unpopular one,” Snaza said during a public hearing on the county’s proposed 2015 budget.
Nine people spoke during the meeting, which drew a standing-room-only crowd. Another dozen people had signed up to speak but never made it to the podium, saying they wanted to defer their time to speakers in support of law enforcement.
County officials have recommended a 2015 overall preliminary budget of $294 million. About $88 million of it would come from the county’s general fund, which is directly overseen by the commissioners.
The county cut more than $5 million in 2014, according to budget and fiscal director Robin Campbell. This year, the county’s elected leaders and department heads were asked to create spending plans using the 2014 funding levels.
“Overall, the county is in a very good financial situation,” Campbell said during a presentation before the hearing. The budget freeze is designed to help the county build its reserve fund; officials are trying to get two months of operating expenses set aside.
“For the general fund, that would be around $14 million,” Campbell said.
Snaza said the budget freeze equals a 3 percent cut due to increases in medical premiums and the cost of doing business. That’s on the heels of a 5 percent cut — $1.2 million — in the 2014 budget, he said.
To date, the Sheriff’s Office has lost eight deputy positions and is at staffing levels reminiscent of the early 1990s, according to Snaza.
Opening the Accountability and Restitution Center would be expensive, and there will be unexpected costs, he said.
The county paid $45 million to build the 352-bed jail, which was completed in 2010. It costs about $500,000 a year to maintain the vacant facility.
Detective Ben Elkins, who also is a Rochester School Board member, told the commissioners that their actions are anti-growth, anti-business and anti-criminal justice.
He said deputies are routinely answering calls by themselves and waiting 20 minutes or longer for backup. Crimes are increasingly more violent, and there have been nine officer-involved shootings during the past two years, Elkins said.
“Prior to 2013, Thurston County had zero officer-involved shootings,” he said. “Our commissioners do not care, because they all live in city jurisdictions. … I find it appalling that our commissioners do not look out for unincorporated Thurston County.”