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Economic funds to help pay for vacant Yakima jail

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Associated Press
YAKIMA -- County commissioners agreed to commit at least $3.8 million from a fund for economic development to pay off a new jail that is sitting vacant.
The jail was built with the proceeds from a 20-year, $33 million bond issue in 2002. At the time, the county agreed to commit money from the economic development fund as a backup source for repayment but described the likelihood of that happening as remote.
However, the jail was designed to make money renting jail beds, and it has been sitting vacant because the rental market collapsed, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported Wednesday.
"Greed got in the way of good judgment," Commissioner Rand Elliott said. "The county got addicted to easy money from bed rentals. We are now faced with that."
Construction of the jail struggled early on because of delays and rising costs. The proposal to fund it with bed rentals completely unraveled when cities in King County withdrew hundreds of inmates a year ago as contracts expired.
The county sold the 20-year bonds with short-term, seven-year contracts with those cities.
Originally designed with two housing units of 288 beds each and an administration building, the project was scaled back to just one housing unit that opened in 2007.
Corrections Director Ed Campbell told commissioners Tuesday some 3,000 jail beds are empty in the state.
"There is no end in sight to the pressure on the market that is driving bed rates down," Campbell said.
Commissioners called the decision Tuesday a bitter bill to swallow.
"We will continue our best efforts to reconcile a past mistake made 10 years ago," Commissioner Mike Leita said.
The economic development fund was created in the late 1990s, when the Legislature authorized economically distressed counties to retain a share of the state sales tax to attract business and new jobs.
Bond payments after 2012 will depend on how successfully the county can reduce expenses in its Department of Corrections, which has already reduced its budget $9 million over the past year.
Story tags » PrisonYakima

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