Pierce County Council maintains authority of jail budget

Staff writerNovember 9, 2013 

Pierce County Council members Friday rejected Executive Pat McCarthy’s request for authority to cut the jail’s budget to avoid further deficits.

“As a council, we want to maintain that control,” said Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup.

In her 2014 budget proposal, McCarthy had asked to review the corrections budget every month and reduce it, if needed, to keep it balanced.

In September, the council approved McCarthy’s supplemental budget, laying off 16 corrections deputies to help plug a $5 million shortfall in the jail’s budget.

While the jail falls under Sheriff Paul Pastor’s responsibilities, ultimate control of the corrections budget belongs to the council.

The council voted 6-1 Friday to keep it that way. Councilman Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, cast the lone “no” vote.

McDonald said the budget and finance department will review the jail’s budget every month next year, instead of quarterly, and will alert the council if there’s a problem.

“We just need to be on top of it,” McDonald said. “We don’t want to get into any serious deficit.”

McCarthy said the council’s decision was OK by her.

“I’m perfectly fine with the council doing that,” the executive said. “The original proposal was really just to keep track of the sheriff’s budget.”

The decision won’t be final until the council adopts the 2014 budget on Nov. 19.

The jail’s revenue and population have plunged since January, when Tacoma shifted its misdemeanor bookings to Fife’s jail for cheaper rates.

The financial crisis has led to tense exchanges between county leaders and Pastor.

McCarthy and McDonald wrote a joint opinion piece in The News Tribune in September in which they described the need for layoffs in stark terms, saying “we had to act in order to stop the financial bleeding” because Pastor “did not submit a thorough plan to adjust his operations.”

Pastor followed with his own News Tribune commentary, saying the economic pressures of the recession caused the jail cutbacks. “We don’t need to fix blame; we need to fix problems,” he wrote.

During budget talks Friday, the council also dealt with another jail matter: a busted boiler.

The boiler broke six weeks ago. A replacement costs $783,000.

The council recommended taking money from funds for jail construction and facilities management to pay for a new boiler in next year’s budget. The county is currently leasing a temporary boiler.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard

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