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Jail advisory committee plan before commissioners

Proposal envisions 10-member appointed panel to advise county


by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The Columbia County Jail, which county officials warn will almost certainly close this summer unless voters approve a $7.07 million operating levy in May. The county is floating the idea of a citizens' advisory committee to provide additional oversight of how revenue generated by the levy would be spent at the jail.A draft ordinance that came before the Columbia County Board of Commissioners this Wednesday, March 19, would establish a citizens’ advisory committee for the Columbia County Jail, provided that a ballot measure to pay for jail operations passes this spring.

The Jail Operating Citizen Advisory Committee, or JOCAC, would consist of 10 volunteer members appointed by the board. Two members apiece would be appointed from each of the county’s five Columbia 9-1-1 zones.

Sarah Hanson, legal counsel to the Board of County Commissioners, described the advisory committee the draft ordinance sets out as “pretty standard” in its format.

“They would be three-year terms, which would coincide with the proposed levy,” Hanson noted of the time for which each advisory committee member would be appointed to serve.

The levy option on the May 20 ballot is a $7.07 million measure that would assess about 58 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in taxes on Columbia County property owners. As written, it is intended to pay for the next three years of Columbia County Jail operations. The jail will otherwise close by the end of June due to budget limitations, county officials have said.

The role of the committee would be to advise the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and Board of County Commissioners on how to allocate revenue from the levy. The sole dedicated purpose of the levy option is to fund jail operations.

Board Chairman Tony Hyde tabled the draft ordinance until the board’s next regular meeting on Wednesday, April 2. But commissioners voiced support for the proposal.

Commissioner Earl Fisher said he heard praise for the idea of a citizens’ advisory committee — which he has championed as a way of ensuring accountability to taxpayers who may be skeptical of the county’s budgeting and management of the jail — during a recent meeting with residents of the Clatskanie area, where he lives.

“This whole notion of having the safety committee, the oversight committee for the jail that we talked about, was well received and very much supported, and seemingly has turned several people who had been in opposition to the levy to be supporters,” Fisher said. “So I think it’s really important that we get this done as quickly as possible.”

Commissioner Henry Heimuller had a quibble over the name used for the committee.

“I think we need to fix our acronym, because Jail Operating Citizen Advisory Committee should have an ‘F’ in there,” said Heimuller. “I think it should be ‘JOFAC,’ instead of JOCAC.”

Hanson replied, “I tried to come up with something that sounded good — and my initial creation was ‘JOKE,’ and I thought that probably wasn’t going to be a good one, so I put the ‘C’ in there. So we can come up with any acronym that you desire.”

Whatever the committee is called, under the draft ordinance, it will only come into existence if voters approve the levy option in May. A similar measure, which would have paid for four years of jail operations, was rejected by voters last November.

The board also approved an order Wednesday to once again institute a study of the jail to determine what its inmate capacity should be. A similar study culminated last year in the number of beds for local inmates being more than halved, decreasing from 65 to 25, due to funding shortfalls.

Fisher described the capacity study as “just a procedure that we have to go through” before the commissioners make any changes to the county’s jail bed availability.