Buckley's city administrator projects $271,000 deficit if jail, other services, aren't closed

Buckley's legislative body briefly acknowledged the elephant in the council chambers July 10, and chose to push the issue another week.

The City of Buckley's general fund faces a probable $271,000 deficit at the close of 2012, lain primarily at the feet of the Buckley Jail. A vote on closure of the Buckley Jail was on the council agenda this past Tuesday, followed by a vote to contract with Enumclaw Jail services. Instead, the council postponed in order to investigate options further.

The council was scheduled to meet Monday to come to a consensus on six closure options—for the jail and other city services financed by the general fund—to correct the budget, and may have voted on the issue at a special council meeting Tuesday.

The jail, 911 dispatch, the Senior program, the Youth program, and the court are all under review for possible closure. City officials are also looking at the option of imposing a vehicle fee of $20 to $40.

Closing Services

The city of Buckley is exploring the possibility of closing several of its in-house government services. Here's how much they stand to save per year for each:

• City Jail and contract services: $80,000 to $150,000
• 911 dispatch and contract services: $103,000
• Senior Program: $53,000
• Youth Program: $19,000
• Court and contract services: $10,000 to $50,000

An additional $20 to $40 vehicle fee the city is considering could potentially save $30,000 per year, according to an estimate by City Administrator Dave Schmidt.

The jail has been a long time asset for Buckley, attracting guaranteed bed space contracts from police departments across King and Pierce counties. From 1999 to 2010, the jail turned a profit every year except 2004, when it lost a bed space contract with the City of Lacey.

The jail lost two such contracts in 2011, leading to a shortfall expected to be in excess of $107,000 for the 2012 budget year.

The cities of Covington and Federal Way both terminated contracts with Buckley due to their commitment to the new SCORE incarceration facility in King County.

At the same time, outside agencies that previously incarcerated with Buckley on a "first come, first served" basis have sent fewer inmates to the facility. A memo and financial report written by City Administrator Dave Schmidt and provided to the mayor and council June 27 surmised the reduction primarily due to outside agencies' efforts to balance their budgets by reducing incarceration costs.

Fixed operational costs have continued to rise annually with wages, benefits, fuel, utilities, and other supplies and services. Jail expenditures were more than 35 percent lower at the time of the 2004 shortfall, and general fund reserves were such that they could subsidize operations.

"We've already tapped out (interfund) transfers to the end of (this) year, as far as we are," Schmidt said.

Current projections of a $107,548 shortfall are based on the average revenue flow seen in month-to-month budgetary monitoring through May. Expenses are fixed for each budget year, but revenues fluctuate due to the jail's on-call customers; therefore the end-of-year shortfall may be more or less than estimated. The projection that there will be a shortfall is all but certain at this juncture.

Illustrating the deep cuts the jail had made in the general fund, Schmidt wrote that some of the shortfall could be subsidized by the city capital fund. However, the jail's shortfall would only be reduced from $107,548 to $67,336, and deplete funding for capital projects to boot.

The thin silver lining of the report was that the bottom line wasn't as bad as it could have been, due to revenues from non-incarceration court monitoring. The city budgeted for $5,000 in revenues from fees related to ankle monitors; current projections indicated more than $55,000 in revenue by the end of the year. Such devices are also believed to be a factor in why outside agencies are leaning less on the Buckley Jail's services.

Closures of jail, 911 dispatch and court services would require the city to contract elsewhere to meet its public safety needs.

Councilman Bryan Howard cautioned against moving to close jail services.

"Many of our neighboring cities rely on us," Howard said. "If we close the jail, we will have no way to re-open in the future, if we need to, without costly (upgrades) to the facilities."

Councilman Milt Tremblay concurred that he didn't want to make any such decision hastily.

"I wouldn't be comfortable voting on this tonight," Tremblay said. "We need to look at how (closures) will affect our youth, how it will affect our elders."

Councilwoman Cristi Boyle Barrett was not as eager to hesitate, contending that time and money lost could lead to otherwise avoidable staff losses.

"We've had two workshops in which we talked about closing the jail, and we talked about the jail in budget meetings last year," she said. "We've talked a lot about the possibility of a jail closure. There was a lot of discussion of what we'll be looking at in the general fund if the jail is kept open. We kept the jail open, and now we're seeing losses each month. We have to make a decision, and at this moment I hate to have to make it.

"The longer we put it off, the more money we have to lose."

Also indicating a desire to move ahead with a closure was Councilman Norm Irons, who likened the jail facility to a failing business.

"If you have your own company, and you've already lost $300,000, and you're projected to lose another $600,000 in the future, you can't stand still on that," he said. "If you're not making money, it doesn't take much of a decision. And, I'm sorry, but we're not making money on the Buckley Jail."

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