The Accountability and Restitution Center will soon be empty no more. Thurston County commissioners and Sheriff John Snaza reached an agreement to move into the new jail at a Wednesday afternoon meeting.
Commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero met with the sheriff alone. New Commissioner Bud Blake was unable to attend. But a member of Blake’s staff said he was happy with the agreement, too.
The parties will officially sign a letter of intent to move into the facility at a Friday event, but the elected officials all said they’ve made their decision.
“I’m looking forward to all of our years of planning finally going into action,” Snaza said. “This is going to be huge.”
The move to the ARC really has been in planning stages for years. Construction on the new jail wrapped up in 2010. But despite multiple attempts to move in, the building has been sitting empty because of budget woes and disagreements.
“I’m wondering what it’s going to feel like to serve our citizens without having this over our heads,” Romero said.
It will be at least 90 days before inmates are moved into the ARC — the Sheriff’s Office is required to give corrections employees at least that much notice before moving, said Undersheriff Tim Braniff. Then, the department will need to train corrections deputies and make sure all of the ARC’s equipment works.
The Sheriff’s Office won’t release the exact move-in date because of security reasons, Braniff said.
Snaza said he hopes to move in by the end of the summer at the latest, but commission Chair Wolfe said she wants the move to take place as soon as possible.
“I think I’m more excited than anybody,” Wolfe said.
Both Snaza and Wolfe said Tuesday that a Dec. 28 article in The Olympian, which outlined the history of the ARC and the disagreement between the sheriff and the commissioners, was instrumental in bringing the issue to county officials’ attention.
The decision to move into the facility is the result of several budget changes. The commissioners and Sheriff’s Office have been working with county budget manager Robin Campbell on a series of budget amendments that would make the move-in fiscally possible. The amendments are outlined in the letter of intent.
The final draft of the letter 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 physically 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 funds in 2016, minus the $25,000 in move-in costs and $25,000 for “unforeseeable needs.”
An additional $183,000 also would be available in 2015 if overtime costs or leave buyouts exceed a certain amount. In his response to Campbell’s draft, Snaza also asked for that sum in the 2016 budget.
Because revenue in the jail’s commissary has decreased in recent years, the $78,000 salary of one corrections department 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.
Sheriff’s Office officials also asked for more money in 2017 if funding is insufficient in 2015 and 2016, but Campbell expressed concerns about impacting a budget that will be written so far in the future. Snaza conceded, and said he doesn’t need that wording as long as commissioners continue to work with him.
“We’ve all worked so hard on this, you have worked so hard on this that I’d like you to stay engaged,” Snaza said to the commissioners.