GUEST OPINION

Sheriff should look at funding options

Terrence Taylor


Terrence Taylor

Fail to plan for the future and you plan to fail.

Again and again, we hear of the Polk County Sheriff Department’s inability to patrol the county’s roads for the entire 24-hour day due to finances — or the apparent lack of funding. It seems strange that in a county that has a $50 million budget and a number of deputies, there is no way to provide more patrol deputies.

Last spring, Polk County officials watched as Columbia County considered a jail levy. Columbia County voters had just defeated a levy the previous November and Columbia County officials began to make plans in case this levy also failed. Part of the plan included renting 10 beds from Polk County at a cost of about $300,000 per year. Polk County saw this as an opportunity to bring in a bit of revenue and provide for more patrol deputies.

It wasn’t to be. The Columbia County levy passed, squeaking by with 51 percent of the vote.

Columbia County’s fortunes are similar to Polk County’s. Long dependent on timber revenue and, later, payments from the federal government in lieu of timber harvest, both counties have seen better days financially. Barring some sort of change in timber harvesting regulations, those financial fortunes won’t be changing. Now is the time for out-of-the-box planning.

Why can’t Polk County take a cue from Columbia County? They were willing to close their jail and house prisoners two counties away. Certainly, Yamhill and/or Benton county would rent beds to Polk County. If I’m doing the math correctly, Columbia County was willing to pay $300,000 a year for 10 beds, which is a rate of $30,000 per bed (2009 Polk County rate was reported to be $20,520). If Polk County has 110 inmates (it currently has fewer), that would mean that at that rate it would cost $3.3 million to house our current inmate population — possibly less if there is a volume discount, or some inmates can be released.

That sounds expensive, but considering that Polk County’s jail budget is now more than $4 million, the difference could be used to hire several patrol deputies.

Is this feasible? I’d like to see someone in the sheriff’s department with more knowledge than I put forth some figures.

Terrence Taylor is a resident of West Salem.

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