The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has a four-person traffic enforcement team up and running and is on track to increase jail capacity by 62 beds Monday.
Sheriff Nathan Sickler, who was appointed in January after former Sheriff Corey Falls took a job in Gresham, outlined changes made to the office during his presentation Monday to the Jackson County Budget Committee.
Falls closed the basement level of the jail after deputies were not able to keep up with training requirements and had to work forced overtime. He also reduced traffic enforcement over concerns tickets were being written to generate revenue.
Sickler said staffing levels are back up and corrections deputies have fulfilled training requirements. He predicted the basement level of the jail will add 62 beds. The jail currently has a capacity of 230.
"We're excited about that. We think that it's going to, hopefully, alleviate some of the strain on the criminal justice system in our county as a whole," he said, adding the jail beds will increase accountability for those who are victimizing residents.
The sheriff's office, which runs the jail, saw 14,132 people booked at the jail in 2016, an increase of 2,000 from the previous year. The jail also saw more forced releases because of overcrowding, Sickler said.
"We led the state in forced releases last year," he said.
As a further step to address overcrowding at the jail, Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Timothy Gerking has pushed the Jackson County District Attorney's Office to make plea agreement offers earlier in the process for defendants charged with serious crimes. Defendants who accept plea offers could be sent away to prison sooner, freeing up jail beds.
The sheriff's office processed more warrants — 5,515 in 2016 compared to 3,456 in 2015, Sickler said.
People often have warrants issued for their arrest when they fail to appear for court dates. Some have blamed the reduction in jail space for causing more defendants to ignore their court dates.
Crime rates are up, but the sheriff's office is also solving more cases, Sickler said.
The county has seen a dramatic drop in the number of fatal car crashes so far this year, possibly due to greater traffic enforcement.
"What you've done in these three months is very commendable," Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer told Sickler during the Budget Committee meeting. The county's three commissioners plus three residents make up the committee.
Expenditures for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office will rise to nearly $31.9 million in the fiscal year that starts in July if the Budget Committee approves recommended department budgets. The adopted budget for the current fiscal year puts spending at $30.4 million. The sheriff's office is hoping to add the equivalent of two full-time employees.
In her presentation to the Budget Committee, District Attorney Beth Heckert said her office is handling more cases.
It filed 7,717 criminal cases in 2016, a 4.7 percent increase, she said.
The office also filed 332 dependency cases, a 9 percent increase. In those cases, the state is petitioning for a decision that a parent is not capable of caring for a child, Heckert said.
The number of dependency cases in Jackson County rivals numbers in counties with larger populations, such as Multnomah County in the Portland metro area, she said.
Heckert said her office is working to handle the high volume of cases by maximizing the use of its deputy district attorneys, rather than refusing to prosecute certain types of crime. She said if the DA's Office didn't prosecute drug crimes, those offenders would likely go on to commit property crimes as their addictions worsened.
The county has a drug court to steer offenders into treatment, as well as a relatively new mental health court to try and treat mentally ill defendants who might otherwise cycle repeatedly through the criminal justice system.
County expenditures for the DA's Office would rise from almost $5.7 million this fiscal year to almost $5.9 million under the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. The office would add a half-time position.
The Community Justice Department is continuing its push for employment and accountability for people on probation and parole, and for those who have recently returned to the county after prison stays, said Eric Guyer, director of the department.
He said the jail is the backbone of many programs to change offender behavior. People are more likely to complete substance abuse treatment or show up for their probation appointments, for example, when they could be sanctioned with time in jail.
Expenditures would rise from almost $16.9 million this fiscal year to nearly $17.3 million under the recommended budget. The department would add the equivalent of 1.5 full-time positions.
The overall county budget would drop slightly from nearly $339.4 million this fiscal year to about $339.2 million for the coming fiscal year. The county is slashing mental health worker jobs after losing contracts to provide services to Oregon Health Plan clients, but is spending more on infrastructure projects and banking more reserves. The growing reserves along with pass-through funds from the state and federal governments inflate the total budget figure.
County property taxes, which bring in about $37 million, will remain unchanged at $2.01 per $1,000 of assessed value — or $402 for a home assessed at $200,000.
Budget Committee hearings will continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave. The committee will take public input and review the proposed budgets for roads, parks, Board of Commissioners, county clerk's office, assessor's office, surveyor's office, health and human services and elected officials' salaries.
If necessary, the Budget Committee will continue its deliberations at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.