Benton sheriff says inmate losses won't hurt

KENNEWICK -- Sheriff Larry Taylor says Benton County won't be financially hurt when the city of Olympia stops sending its prisoners to rent-a-cells at the county jail in January.

Taylor learned this week that the contract for $518,000 a year to reserve 20 beds at the jail in Kennewick was being terminated.

But he said he believes the state Department of Corrections and the U.S. Marshal's Office will be willing to sign up for the soon-to-be vacated cells.

"The sky is not falling, and there is no need to panic," Taylor said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

The sheriff spent much of the day explaining to county officials how he plans to make up what potentially could have been a $1.3 million shortfall in revenue for the 2011-12 budget.

"I've got contingencies (funds)," Taylor said, but his first choice is to have the 20 cells occupied by Department of Corrections inmates, who now fill nearly 100 cells on a yearly contract. "I've contacted them and they can come up with 130 to 150 inmates," the sheriff said. He also hopes to obtain a deal with the U.S. Marshal's Office for 10 to 15 more inmates on that contract.

"I fully expect the DOC will be the fix when the city of Olympia goes away," Taylor said.

Olympia officials decided more than a week ago to opt out of the Benton County jail contract in favor of using the Lewis County jail, which is about 30 miles closer and cheaper, Taylor said.

He didn't know about the decision until Wednesday after one of his staff learned of it being reported in the Olympia newspaper.

"The contract has a 90-day termination clause, but they've already decided to get out," Taylor said, noting that Olympia's prisoners have been housed at the Benton County jail under a contract arrangement since 2003.

The sheriff said if Olympia can pull out without notice, he can stop accepting prisoners from them as soon as he chooses.

"I've got 32 of them in there now," Taylor said.

Taylor said the $518,000 annual contract produces a net profit of $100,000 to $150,000 because it costs about $400,000 a year to house and feed those prisoners, plus the time and mileage involved in going to Olympia by van to pick up and deliver the inmates.

"When the Olympia contract goes away, we won't have to make those twice-weekly trips. I think we actually might come out better on this," Taylor said.

If everything falls through with no one to take up those empty cells, the sheriff said a "worst-case scenario would make our daily bed rate go up about $3 a day."

The current daily bed rate is $57 a day.

County commissioners Leo Bowman and Max Benitz Jr. had not heard about the sheriff's jail vacancy problem, and they had no comment.

Commissioner Jim Beaver could not be reached late Friday afternoon about the issue.