Spokane County officials are threatening to release more than 100 inmates at Geiger Corrections Center because the city of Spokane has refused to pay higher incarceration fees for 2006.
City leaders say the threat to release inmates was an unnecessary escalation of the billing dispute.
“It’s irresponsible for them to make such a statement at this point of the negotiations,” said Acting Spokane Police Chief Jim Nicks. “I would hope they would not be so foolish as to release them into the community.”
But county officials say they may have no choice. The new rates for Geiger that went into effect Jan. 1 reflect the true cost of housing inmates at the West Plains lockup and will be charged to all entities that use the center, they say.
“We’re not ripping anyone off with our new rates,” said Geiger director Leon Long. “It’s break-even.”
As of Friday, Geiger housed about 125 city inmates convicted or charged with misdemeanor offenses, Long said. Those arrested in Spokane for felony crimes are county inmates and are not affected by the dispute.
In 2005, Geiger charged cities and the county $41 a day for each inmate jailed at the center. Geiger increased the rate to $60 for 2006.
The rise in rates would cost the city about $900,000 extra a year, said Dorothy Webster, Spokane’s administrative services director.
“We have not agreed to these rates, and we have not had a contract since 2004,” wrote Dave Ingle, Spokane Police’s administrative services director, in an e-mail to the county’s chief executive officer, Marshall Farnell.
Ingle told Farnell that the city will pay 2005 rates until an agreement is reached. On Tuesday, Webster said the city is in the process of cutting a check for the city’s first Geiger bill of 2006 based on the 2005 rates.
However, on Tuesday County Commissioners told Geiger’s director not to budge on the rates.
Commissioner Mark Richard said Long should give the city two more weeks to pay its first bill for 2006.
If they don’t pay it in full, “then we load ‘em up and move ‘em,” Richard said. “If they want to challenge it, they pay the new rate and challenge it.”
Long said that Geiger lost $1 million in 2005. Part of the 2006 increase will cover last year’s loss and for several years of deferred costs.
“Our boilers are on the edge,” Long said, noting one of Geiger’s needs.
Geiger remains much cheaper than housing people in the Spokane County Jail, which charges $18 more a day, plus booking fees that Geiger doesn’t charge.
City and county leaders said if the matter isn’t resolved, inmates would be shipped to the jail where they likely would be released because the jail is already at capacity.
Webster said previous Geiger rates were computed by a consultant who analyzed Geiger costs. The city believes there was an agreement with Geiger to continue using that method to figure costs, she said.
“We’re just trying to be responsible stewards of the city’s money,” Webster said. “We certainly were not trying to irritate.”
Although previous rates were set by a consultant, there was no agreement to continue using one, Long said. Based on last year’s deficit, the method wasn’t working, he added.
Long questioned the city’s delay in making full payment.
In an e-mail responding to Ingle on Friday, Long said “The new rate structure was explained over and over again” to Spokane officials at a meeting last month. He also said that Geiger wouldn’t house city inmates “effective immediately.” That move was later delayed after Spokane’s Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch requested time to resolve the matter.
Commissioners said they can’t wait long for Spokane to pay the full bill because it would mean taxpayers outside Spokane would cover whatever Spokane refuses to pay.
“It’s called tax diversion. We cannot subsidize the city of Spokane,” said Commissioner Phil Harris, noting that tax diversion is illegal. “I’m not going to jail to do it.”