County officials announced Wednesday they had reached an agreement to open the Accountability and Restitution Center. They celebrated the decision at a Friday morning press conference, where they officially signed a letter of intent to move into the building.
Sheriff John Snaza and County Commissioners Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero and Bud Blake all signed the letter, which outlines a series of budget changes that will make moving into the ARC possible.
“This moment is very momentous,” Wolfe said. “Since this jail was completed in 2010, we’ve been through a Great Recession, we’ve been through cutting 18 percent of our workforce, we’ve been through many budget and fiscal challenges throughout the year, and we’ve been through some very laborious labor negotiations.”
The relationship between the commissioners and the sheriff is markedly different than it was just a month ago, when the two sides were at odds over the best way to open the ARC.
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At the time, Wolfe said the ARC likely wouldn’t open until Snaza left office.
“We’re at a stalemate right now,” Wolfe said in December. “An absolute stalemate. Nothing is getting done.”
Snaza was equally frustrated and accused the commissioners of being unwilling to compromise. In December, he said he hadn’t even discussed the issue with the commissioners since May.
But at the Friday event, the elected officials were all smiles.
“Although it might have appeared at times that it was adversarial, I would like to say that it was more about passion, about how do we serve the citizens of Thurston County,” Snaza said.
“As he said, it might have sounded adversarial,” Romero added. “I never felt that. I always felt like we were always talking, we were moving forward. I personally felt that it was just handled very professionally. And I just want that message to go to the public.”
Since December, the board of commissioners has changed. In November, Commission Chairwoman Karen Valenzuela lost her seat to Blake, and he took office at the beginning of this year.
Blake said that as he campaigned last year, citizens pointed to the ARC as an area in need of major change.
“I came into office knowing that opening the ARC is one of the most important things we could do,” Blake said. “It took a lot of negotiation, and I think I showed the other commissioners that we needed to take a risk.”
No date was when on when the jail would open, but the letter of intent promises an additional $111,879 in the 2015 Corrections budget, bringing the budget up to $17.98 million.
It also promises to earmark $283,000 in the general fund for Corrections in 2015. This sum would include $25,000 to move into the ARC; $25,000 for “unforeseeable needs” afterward; and an additional $50,000 to cover medical, lab and dental costs.
The letter promises the same amount of earmarked money in 2016, minus the $25,000 in move-in costs and $25,000 for “unforeseeable needs.”
An additional $183,000 would be available in 2015 and 2016 if overtime costs or leave buyouts exceed a certain amount.
Because revenue in the jail’s commissary has decreased in recent years, the $78,000 salary of one Corrections accountant will be moved to the county’s budget starting in 2015, and a second one will be moved in 2016.
The budget changes will need to be adopted formally at an upcoming commission meeting.