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Federal Way shoulders higher cost for regional jail
Opened last year, the SCORE jail facility is not meeting the projected use, and as a result, Federal Way is apparently paying a bigger chunk of the bill than expected.
Mayor Skip Priest gave the Federal Way City Council a brief preview of the 2013-14 biennial budget at the council's Oct. 2 meeting, saying some aspects of the budget are looking positive, while others are certainly a cause for concern.
Most notable among those concerning issues is the city's involvement with the SCORE jail facility.
"As we've discussed in prior meeting, the SCORE jail has an impact, that was not expected, on the budget," said Priest, who also serves on the jail's administrative board. "It was cause by high operating costs which are a result of the fact that we have not built the facility that was anticipated. And second of all, is the fact that, quite frankly, our percentage of what's called ADP, or average daily population, is higher than what was projected in the original proposal three or four years ago."
According to the city's numbers, the costs for the SCORE facility for the next two years will be $3.77 million in 2013, which includes a one-time cost of $1.53 million.
In 2014, the facility will cost the city $3.75 million, with a one-time cost of $1.4 million associated with that year. This unexpected increase in costs means Federal Way is shouldering almost 25 percent of the total load for the facility, according to the city's projections.
As the city continues to get its financial house in order, Priest underscored the point that getting the costs for SCORE under control are a top priority.
"The bottom line is…there is approximately $16 million in overhead just to take care of the facility. We think we can take 100 to 150 more ADP on a daily basis, without raising the costs, which would reduce each one of the city's shares of those costs," Priest said. "It's a personal priority, and it's probably my highest priority, as we begin working on this process."
One of the strategies being explored by the cities that make up the consortium responsible for creating and using SCORE — Auburn, Renton, Tukwila, Federal Way, Seatac, Burien and host city Des Moines — is to figure out how to market the facility to other jurisdictions and agencies around the region, Priest said.
There have been talks of reaching out to the state and to tribal groups as possible users of the facility, all with the aim of lowering costs for each of the participating cities.
Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell was curious to know what the city's previous costs for jail-related services had been, in order to get a better idea of where the city stands now, he said.
"Right now, I don't know what $7.52 million is, maybe a little more than 15 percent of our budget. … This could get to a point where it's unsustainable," Ferrell said. "I'm really curious where this is going to take us."
Police Chief Brian Wilson added some context to the conversation, saying that the costs the city faces for the facility are comparable to jail costs in the past, going as far back as 2002-2003.
"Our jail costs, from that period to where we are today, with the numbers you saw today…We've been in the area of about $1.8 million to $3.4 million over this period of time," Wilson said. "What's happening is our neighboring jurisdictions are used to a much higher budget annually (to spend) on jail services."
Wilson said those jurisdictions are accustomed to spending $4 million to $7 million a year on jail-related costs.
"There have been changes…where the numbers originally projected by some of our partner agencies have now dropped, significantly," Wilson said.
Both Priest and Wilson re-iterated that after 2014, the city's obligation to SCORE will be lessened and other options will become available to get some of these costs under control.
Priest indicated Federal Way has begun looking at alternative forms of punishment for many who would be sent to the SCORE facility. Options include work-release programs or home monitoring. If some number of arrestees from Federal Way could be diverted into these kind of programs, the hope is that it would lower the city's portion of the burden for operating SCORE.
"The more important point is for us to do our job, which is managing our ADP, which we're working on, and then second of all, it's our responsibility to work with… other cities, to look for ways that we can fill the facility in the most cost effective manner to reduce our share of the costs," Priest said. "That's our focus."