County and sheriff seek compromise on empty jail’s costs

Thurston County Commissioners and Sheriff John Snaza met Monday over a spending proposal to open a new county jail that has sat empty for nearly five years.

County officials have said the sheriff is making impossible demands for opening the Accountability and Restitution Center. The sheriff has said the county won’t give him enough money.

County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe told The Olympian she was optimistic about Monday’s meeting, and said she expects a follow-up meeting next week to help resolve the impasse. Budget officers were asked to review the jail’s numbers by “starting from zero” and considering things such as a reserve fund and changes to employee contracts, Wolfe said.

“I don’t like to imply that it’s this side and that side,” said Wolfe, referring to the attempt at a compromise. “We’re all in this together.”

Built for $48 million at the Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater, the new jail was finished in October 2010. However, the facility has sat empty because of hiring and budget difficulties.

Snaza told The Olympian that Monday’s meeting was positive, and credited the newspaper’s coverage for rekindling a conversation that had been hindered by politics. Snaza said he will find ways to absorb some of the operating costs of the jail, and was optimistic the county commissioners could “make it happen” on their end.

“I do think we have to make priorities,” Snaza said. “Is public safety a priority and is moving into a new jail a priority? If it is, I know we’ll be able to find the money somewhere.”

Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore also attended Monday’s meeting and said he expects the intensity of the jail conversations to “reach a new level.” Moore noted that all county departments are struggling for funding.

“There will have to be some give and take,” Moore told The Olympian about the jail situation. “We’ll never get anywhere unless we’re talking, and we’re talking.”