By Stefanie Donahue
Due to a growing need for repair, the cost to operate Whatcom County Jail is rising and cities that use it are being asked to pay more.
On June 11, Blaine City Council voted 7-0 to authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement with Whatcom County and cities within its jurisdiction for jail services. As a result, the city will have to pay an additional $8 per day to house an inmate at Whatcom County Jail. Initial booking fees will rise by $16, electronic home detention fees will rise by $20 and a new $13 capital replacement fee will be added.
The new agreement accounts for the added costs, per person, to make much-needed repairs to the jail facility. According to Whatcom County sheriff Bill Elfo, the jail housed upwards of 350 inmates in 2015, even though remodels completed over three decades boosted its maximum capacity to 280. In 2013, a task force called the need to replace the jail “critical” due to overcrowding and lack of safety. Despite the need, residents voted against two sales tax measures to fund the construction of a new jail.
“The jail is in desperate need of repair and the county will be closing cell blocks over the next few years to make the necessary repairs,” read a city staff report prepared by Blaine municipal court administrator Raylene King. “The jail will have less space available for the jail population during the repairs, so the city is investigating alternatives. Regardless, access to a jail facility is necessary for the city.”
The city is currently under contract with Yakima County to house post-conviction defendants as an alternative to using the Whatcom County Jail. King said the city is also considering other less-costly alternatives, such as electronic home detention, and will be presented with an ordinance on the matter later this month.
“The costs of the county jail are going to continue to go up,” said city councilmember Meg Olson. “We’re going to see this contract with a higher price tag next time it comes around, so really all that we can do is continue to look at alternatives.”