County approves new NORCOR funding model

Mediated agreement will save HR County $200,000 per year

There may finally be peace on the NORCOR funding front.

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners passed a funding resolution for the prison Monday night, laying out the financial obligations for the four counties which use the regional prison in The Dalles.

Years of squabbling over how to pay for the prison led the counties to mediation with Hood River Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley this summer.

An agreement was hammered out which would see Wasco County get a break of 10 percent in the first year of the formula and 7.5 percent in each subsequent year from the total budget for costs of hosting the jail.

Every county will pay into the facility based upon their proportionate share of the use of the prison over a five year rolling average.

The remainder of the percentage Wasco County does not pay is picked up by the remaining three counties based on their percentage of use.

Hood River and Sherman counties have both passed the funding resolution and it now awaits passage by Gilliam and Wasco counties.

“This is a huge step forward for all of the counties in a very positive way,” said Hood River commission chair Ron Rivers.

The counties using the jail have been involved in funding disputes for years, with a Wasco County attempt to vote Hood River County out of the jail partnership in the spring serving as the impetus for mediation.

Hood River County has long contended that it paid more than its fair share for the jail, which for decades operated under a 50-40-5-5 senario between the counties.

However, Hood River typically used less than its 40 allotted beds.

Wasco County had attempted to remove Hood River from the partnership after Hood River had refused to guarantee paying money owed for facility operations.

The new model will lead to Wasco County paying around $200,000 more a year for the prison than it does currently, Hood River about $200,000 less and Sherman and Gilliam about $25,000 more each.

Dave Meriwether, Hood River County Administrator, said reaching an agreement on funding was critical so that the counties could move on to focusing on other goals with prison operations instead of fighting about how to pay for it every year.

“Once we all agree we are in the same boat we can move on to other goals,” Meriwether said.

Rivers praised Meriwether for his work in helping to move the negotiations forward, Crowley for bringing the parties together and NORCOR administrator Jim Weed for presenting the settlement in a logical and easy to digest way.

In other county business Monday:

n The county approved an updated emergency management plan. According to planning director Mike Benedict an update to the plan is required every five years to be eligible for FEMA mitigation project funds.

The plan included an updated risk assessment summary. Wildfires are listed as the greatest threat to the county, followed closely by severe storms and flooding. Drought is listed as the next most likely event followed by by earthquakes and landslides. Volcanic events and tornadoes are the seventh and eighth highest threats, but are far down on the scale of probability.

n Following a public hearing, the board approved an update to the county dangerous building’s ordinance to bring it into compliance with state statutes.

n Set a public hearing for Dec. 17 on a proposed garbage rate increase to take effect Jan.1, 2013.

n Announced a joint meeting with the Hood River City Council in January on the subject of homelessness. At the meeting the council and county will also discuss a report from Bellingham, Wash. Police Chief Todd Ramsay on the possibility of combining the city police force with the county sheriff department.

Meriwether said that he, Rivers, Hood River mayor Arthur Babitz, Hood River city administrator Bob Francis, Hood River Police Chief Neal Holste and Sheriff-elect Matt English had met earlier in the day. He said that a change to the status quo was unlikely at the present time, but that the county wanted to discuss the report with the city.

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