Council votes to shut down Buckley Jail by December

Buckley City Council voted yesterday evening to suspend operations on the city jail and dispatch center.

The jail's operations will cease as of Dec. 1. In the interim, Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto and his staff will be responsible for terminating all outside jail service contracts, as well as terminating the employment of corrections staff.

Buckley's dispatch center will have up to 12 months to close up shop, beginning Sept. 1.

Council members noted the dispatch office, which operates out of the jail building, would have faced closure in a matter of years once Pierce County's South Sound 911 service launched. The closure of the two city services go hand-in-hand. Dispatch staff provide necessary coverage of certain corrections staff duties, so the city could not close out the dispatch center by itself without increasing jail-side staff costs.

"This one makes me really angry about what the county has done with South Sound 911," Mayor Pat Johnson said following the vote authorizing dispatch's suspension. "The County's failure to plan has become our crisis."

South Sound 911 was created by voters' approval of Proposition 1 in 2011, and will eventually result in consolidated emergency dispatch services for Pierce County. The city of Buckley could theoretically opt out of using the service, but citizens would still be obligated to pay into the service's sales tax, and the city would likely lose its revenue-generating outside contracts in the process, Johnson said.

"We've all been told the dispatch center is an integral part of our jail facility," Councilman Randy Reed said. "We can't get rid of dispatch without losing the jail or increasing our staff costs.

"That said, I am in the same boat as council member (Bryan) Howard in asking 'How much is this going to cost long term?'"

Howard and councilman Milt Tremblay were both outspoken opponents of jail closure when it was listed on the July 10 agenda. The two successfully lobbied for a stay of execution pending further investigation.

Last night before the vote, Howard repeated his belief that closure is a shortsighted move, and that the council may find itself regretful in the future.

Tremblay likewise said he lamented the loss of a service that distinguished the city from unincorporated county space.

"It isn't a question of whether or not the jail is making money, it's a question of whether the city is providing a service," he said. "I really struggled with losing that service. But then we have the senior center, youth center, and all these other things we risk losing if we don't lose this facility.

"I don't think any one of us can say now, 'In two years, in three years, this will turn around.' We don't know that.

Councilman Norm Irons, who has historically been opposed to continuing jail operations on fiscal grounds, asked Chief Arsanto one last time if there was any way to rally for guaranteed bed space contracts.

"Nothing is impossible," Arsanto said. "But to close by (Dec. 1), we require 90 days notice to our clients in our contracts. Even if we got further down the line and I flew up the red flag to try to bring clients back in, our current contracts would already be pulled out."

Councilwoman Cristi Boyle-Barrett, another closure advocate, held back tears as she recounted the budget struggle of the past year.

"I think the most important thing a council member is tasked with is to be a good steward of city finances," she said. "I do not like taking peoples' jobs. But we have looked high and low for solutions in our finances.

"I think everyone has worked as hard as they could so that it would not come to this."

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