Last week brought the good news: Spokane County’s cash reserve numbers may turn out to be better than expected in the near future.
But, inevitably, that information led to the other side of the equation: Various departments whose budgets were cut may be looking for some relief.
On Tuesday, first up, was Spokane County Juvenile Court.
“We’re running into several real serious situations,” said Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly, who is assigned to Juvenile Court.
Rielly said that the combinations of county and state budget cuts has left Juvenile Detention Services short about $1.3 million and it is also having to make do with 10.5 fewer positions. Currently, there are 12 corrections officers who must cover 24-hour shifts.
“It’s posing a risk to the safety of our people and the kids,” Rielly said.
Rielly told the commissioners that the juvenile offender population has “increased substantially – I can’t tell you what the genesis is.”
That often creates a dangerous situation, the judge said, when some of the more violent or mentally challenged inmates come into conflict with an overburdened staff.
“Getting cuts from the county as well as the state has us really concerned,” Rielly said. “It’s a real problem this time.”
Bonnie Bush, director of juvenile court services, said the detention facilities often house more offenders than its official capacity can hold. Recently, there were 44 kids being held locally at the detention center when the budget is for 37. Another six were placed at Martin Hall, a state juvenile facility for more serious offenders.
Money for more staff and home-monitoring devices – which could help when there’s an overflow to the system – would be the biggest contribution the commissioners could make, Bush said.
“We have tried everything,” she said. “We’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul…it’s a risk to the kids.”
Board Chairman Mark Richard said it was his “naïve opinion” that there are beds at Martin Hall that aren’t currently being used by the county and that some of the extra juvenile offenders could be sent there.
However, Rielly said that – except for the more extreme cases – most aren’t held long enough to be sent to the Medical Lake facility. Since the offenders are up for trial, it makes more sense for them to be at the downtown detention facility near the courthouse.
“We need for them to be in court,” Rielly said. “We constantly need these people.”
However, when pressed about specific dollar amounts needed, neither Rielly nor Bush had an exact figure in mind. Bush said, at the minimum, “If you were Santa…no more cuts” but added that four positions added between $70,000 and $75,000 annually would be a start.
Rielly said that they could come back with some more information in the future.
“We’re just wanted to get this in front of you,” he said.
While Mager said she is supportive, both Richard and county Commissioner Todd Mielke said they need more information.
“We’re just kind of shooting from the hip today,” he said.