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Jail meeting set for Jan. 14

Members of the public will be able to address Columbia County officials on their thoughts regarding the troubled Columbia County Jail at a work group meeting on the future of the facility Jan. 14.

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson announced the date, time and location of the meeting Friday, Dec. 13. It will be held at the Columbia River Receptions and Events at Meriwether Place, 1070 Columbia Blvd. in St. Helens, at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting is the first in a planned series of sessions for county officials, members of the public and others to talk about the county’s correctional situation.

Officials, including Dickerson, say the jail is likely to close — possibly in the next fiscal year — due to limited funding. Declining county revenues have meant the budget for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to operate the jail has shrunk over the past several years, and Dickerson has said the county depends on bed rentals for federal inmates to keep the facility open.

“From what I understand, it is another chance for the group to discuss any options the work group members have come up with, as well as to hear from members of the public,” Dickerson wrote of the Jan. 14 meeting in an email Friday. “I have no expectations one way or the other, except that it is another opportunity to let people know that the crisis is real, and we are headed for a certain jail closure without — what I see now as — a miracle.”

County commissioners pinned their hopes for continuing jail operations on a four-year operating levy they placed on the November ballot. But voters rejected the $9.57 million measure by a solid margin. Without the levy, officials now say, the outlook for the jail is grim.

In his email, Dickerson concluded, “I see nothing on the horizon that can give us the revenue we need to keep the ship afloat. If somehow that was to materialize, I would be thrilled, but we are preparing now for the worst.”

The Board of County Commissioners could place a second ballot measure before voters in the May primary election, which could allow the county to secure additional revenue ahead of the start of fiscal year 2015 next July. But such a levy would face steep odds unless county officials come up with a significantly more popular proposition than the property tax hike voters swatted down last month.

Dickerson said at a Nov. 25 meeting on the jail issue that he is not personally seeking a new levy option.

If the Columbia County Jail closes, county officials have said they will likely seek to rent jail beds from other counties, such as Polk and Tillamook counties, or at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles.