YAKIMA -- An unexpected $6 million decrease in Yakima County jail revenues stemming from lost bed rentals now is forcing the closure of three of the four dormitory units at the new jail where the rental program began -- the 3-year-old facility next to State Fair Park.
The decision to shut down three, 72-bed housing units came a day after the county announced it must lay off 33 jail employees, most of them corrections officers, because of the lost bed rentals. The layoffs are effective at the end of January.
Yakima County built the controversial jail to service bed-rental contracts with 35 King County cities -- most of which are not renewing their contracts with the county.
County Commissioner Mike Leita said Thursday that the county is not optimistic it can find enough new customers to fill the beds vacated by the King County inmates.
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"We still will have empty beds. Now we have to look at our long-term obligations and see how we mitigate those," Leita said. "It is not likely we will be able to rent out the vacant beds."
The now-empty beds at the new jail likely aren't to be filled anytime soon because of a decline in inmate populations statewide and increasing competition among jurisdictions seeking to rent out their own jail beds.
What's more, the loss of rental revenue will increase pressure on the county Department of Corrections to meet its obligations, which include repayment of the $33 million worth of bonds sold to build the jail.
Corrections Director Ed Campbell said the 216 beds in the dormitories will go dark as early as next week. The jail will continue to house some 70 inmates who work in the kitchen and in other inmate programs.
The bulk of the county's inmates will continue to be housed at the downtown jail, which is more secure.
"Operationally, it is more difficult to maintain two facilities," Campbell said. "We still have violent offenders and we can't house them at that (new) facility."
Corrections is losing revenue because King County cities pulled some 200 of their inmates at the end of a seven-year, bed-rental agreement. Campbell said most of those inmates already have been removed.
Although county commissioners expected to lose some of the cities under contract for 330 inmates, they were surprised when so many pulled out.
The few cities expected to remain are Burien, Kirkland, Clyde Hill, Bellevue and Woodinville.
The bed rental agreements generated annual revenues of more than $10 million. The Corrections Department, the largest agency in county government, has a projected 2011 operating budget of $32.8 million. But that figure will change with the loss of the rental inmates.
In addition to the remaining King County inmates, the county has rental agreements for about 200 inmates from other jurisdictions.