City, County consider new jail contract

A proposed 10-year contract between the City of Tacoma and Pierce County would eliminate an end-of-year reconciliation fee but saddle the city with emergency medical expenses for inmates housed at the Pierce County Jail, according to a presentation Tuesday during the city council study session.

Those reconciliation fees, which totaled between $30,000 and $500,000 annually over the past four years, would allow the city to better gauge jail service costs, according to Alisa O’Hanlon, the city’s government relations coordinator, who outlined the contract for councilmembers.

But emergency services, such as ambulance transportation and hospital charges, are harder to predict. Last year, emergency services for Tacoma inmates totaled $150,000 (countywide, the total was $400,000).

For each inmate, the county charges $140 for booking, $66 for daily housing, and $58 for escorting inmates from their cells to court appearances.

The proposed contract also calls for the county to conduct a study to determine if the city could save money by implementing video arraignment procedures instead of in-court appearances — reducing costs associated with escorting inmates.

According to Eileen Bisson, chief of corrections for Pierce County, the jail averages 425 monthly bookings from arrests made in Tacoma, and houses 1,350 inmates countywide.
“You are our biggest customer,” Bisson told councilmembers.

The proposed contract also permits the city to contract with another entity for jail services.

If approved by City Council next week, the contract would retroactively become effective Jan. 1, 2006. Since 1992, the city and county have operated on a month-to-month agreement.

“It looks great,” said Councilmember Tom Stenger. “It looks like these are all wins for us. This sounds favorable.”

Councilmembers are expected to vote on the contract next week.