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Geiger wins higher fees in fight over jail housing

Wed., March 29, 2006, midnight

Match point, Geiger.

The detention center on the West Plains has won higher fees in a heated billing dispute with the city of Spokane.

Spokane and other cities will have to pay almost $67 a day for each inmate they house at Geiger, a lockup run by Spokane County. That’s $7 a day more than the rate Geiger initially wanted to charge, and Spokane officials refused to pay. The figure was decided by a consultant, who was hired by Geiger at Spokane’s request.

Had the city not fought the county’s original proposal, the city would have saved taxpayers about $300,000.

“Sometimes you should be careful what you ask for,” County Commissioner Phil Harris said when asked about the consultant’s decision.

The billing controversy erupted last month when Spokane County threatened to dump city inmates from Geiger after Spokane opted not to pay its January bill in full. City leaders said they had been shocked by Geiger’s original increase in the daily rate from 2005: $41 to $60 and wondered why they had no notice about the sharp rise.

Spokane’s Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch said he has no regrets about asking for the consultant’s opinion.

“It validates that charge. We didn’t have that before. It was just a guesstimate,” he said. “It was lack of process that frustrated me.”

Rising rates at Geiger and the Spokane County Jail will cost the city about $1 million more than the $5.2 million the city budgeted for incarceration in 2006, Lynch said.

Geiger has about 125 Spokane inmates convicted or charged with misdemeanor offenses. Those arrested in Spokane for felony crimes are county inmates and were not affected by the dispute.

In the face of exploding jail costs, Spokane is considering moving at least some of its inmates from Geiger to other incarceration options like home monitoring, Lynch said. The city may also work with a private, not-for-profit business that would house inmates and possibly allow them to go to work.

Lynch said he hopes the city can move to a more affordable housing option within a couple years.

In the meantime, Spokane will pay the new rate retroactively to Jan. 1. Lynch said it’s too early to say where the city will find the extra money to pay the higher fees.


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