Spokane County Commissioners remove Martin Hall funding
Expected annual savings is about $320,000
Last Thursday, Nov. 29, the board of Spokane County Commissioners voted to pull their funding from Martin Hall Juvenile Detention Center in Medical Lake beginning in 2013.
The move is estimated to save the county $320,000 each year for the guaranteed five beds reserved for Spokane County. Martin Hall currently has 60 beds, but only 20 are in regular use, Commissioner Al French said.
Payments averaged out to $175 per bed every night, regardless of whether it was being used. Contract negotiations arose with other counties using Martin Hall in an effort to reform the payment structure, largely focused on whether counties used it or not. Martin Hall is governed by a consortium of county commissioners.
“We were able to negotiate with all the other facilities to go to $120 a bed night, and only charge $120 for those bed nights you use,” French said.
The savings would have added up to $300,000 for Stevens County, $56,000 for Whitman County, however they were hesitant to change. As a result, Spokane and Douglas counties voted to decline funding for the facility. Discussions, French said, have been taking place since the middle of last year between all nine counties involved in the consortium.
Spokane County will see a monthly savings of $26,000 from the funding cut.
In order to break even, in terms of Martin Hall’s operating budget, 30 beds must be used on a nightly basis. For the last couple of years, French said, numbers have been in the mid-teens to low 20s, leading to funding difficulties.
Spokane County is the only Eastern Washington county that has a separate program for juveniles, allowing detainees to remain in the city, instead of being transported elsewhere. As a result, the county hasn’t used beds at the facility since the mid-2000s. Spokane County was funding a facility it wasn’t using.
“Some of the other counties have enjoyed, basically, Spokane County subsidizing their operation,” French said.
The funding cut from Spokane drew questions of Martin Hall’s future operations. One of the plans put forward to the consortium was simply placing the facility in stasis.
“One of the plans we’ve put forward was just mothballing it. Not taking it down, but continuing to keep the building under the control of the consortium,” Fremcj said.
Should a situation arise in the future where a large number of juveniles are detained, having the option to open Martin Hall for overflow capacity would be a cost-effective measure.
“We want to have the ability to open Martin Hall and take advantage of those 60 beds,” French said. “So you never want to get rid of the facility but you clearly can shut it down and mothball it until you can justify operating it.”
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.