Mason County Jail Chief Kevin Hanson talked about details of the proposal this week during an interview with iFIBER One News KMAS Radio’s Daybreak morning show host Jeff Slakey.
Hanson said county officials are meeting with an architect to design a new district court room at the former Olsen’s Furniture building on Franklin Street in Shelton.
“It’s going to be challenging for us,” Hanson said, explaining how corrections officers will safely and securely transfer inmates by van to the courtroom. A secured area will keep the public away from a loading dock at the new district court building, he said.
“They’re going to make two new court rooms and a jury room and a judge’s chamber,” he said.
The new courtroom will help the judicial system handle more criminal court cases.
Another half-time prosecutor, a new court clerk, and another public defense paralegal would be hired to expand the county’s court system.
Funding would also be earmarked for mental health and other rehabilitation programs to help offenders return to life after incarceration, including housing “to try to prevent people from coming back to jail,” Hanson said.
The new Behavioral Health Triage Center being constructed on Cota Street would assist the jail by rehabilitating drug users and mentally ill patients to keep them out of jail, according to Hanson.
Dollars generated by the 3/10ths of 1 percent sales tax proposed in a ballot to voters on Aug. 6 would be solely dedicated to the benefit of Mason County’s public safety and judicial systems. It will represent an additional sales tax of $3 for each $1,000 of purchases in the county.
The funds raised would be split between Mason County, at 60 percent, and the City of Shelton, at 40 percent.
The public safety tax proposal would generate about $1.3 million a year specifically for criminal justice programs operated by the sheriff’s office and the county courts. It will fund some expansion of services and abilities within the jail system and court system.
The City of Shelton already has a 1/10th of 1 percent public safety tax and the ballot measure would take it to 3/10ths of 1 percent of every dollar that residents and visitors spend in the county.
Hansen said in May there were 319 arrests that were not booked in the jail because it was full. Hansen said once a judge tells the sheriff’s office that a person arrested has to be incarcerated then room has to be made for that person.
Currently, Mason County Jail can hold no more than 94 inmates leading the Sheriff’s staff to almost daily release an offender early in order to make room for a new arrest. Sheriff Salisbury says in the month of May there were 309 new arrests in Mason County with no room at the jail to put the offender.
If the added criminal justice sales tax increase is approved by voters the Mason County sales tax would go from 8.5 to 8.8 percent. The retail sales tax in Thurston County is currently at 9.3 percent, by comparison.
Of the $1.3 million generated by the sales tax, $450,000 would go to fund six new correction deputies.
Two of them will take care of transportation staff and other four to go to fill positions laid off form the jail staff in the past.
A proposal to replace Mason County’s existing jail is being considered in a separate bond proposal. The county commissioners have hired a consultant firm to come up with proposals to replace the jail, including a regional facility shared with Grays Harbor County.
The county commissioners authorized purchase of the former furniture store property at 414 W. Franklin St. for $825,000. The deal includes closing costs with a 25 percent down payment and monthly installments at 4.5 percent interest for five years.