ST HELENS, Ore. – The Columbia County Sheriff is warning people that their safety may be in jeopardy if the jail shuts down.
Voters must pass a levy or else the county jail will close in just three months.
Last November, the public already voted against additional jail funding. But as the facility gets closer to a shutdown, the sheriff is hoping people will give the issue a serious second-thought.
The jail is down to holding just 25 local inmates for the county. The rest are federal inmates that the county is paid to hold.
Budget cuts over the past several years have whittled down the sheriff’s ability to run the jail, to the breaking point.
“I’m not trying to scare people as far as what’s going to happen, but I want to share my concerns,” Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said. “Concerns are when you don’t have any place to put people and lawlessness abounds.”
In an open letter to the community about the potential jail closure, Dickerson said "I do believe with all my heart that it will be worse that most of us imagine."
Money to run the jail will run out after June 31st. A roughly $7-million levy would pay to run 100 beds for local inmates, for three years.
Dickerson said he supports the levy, but he’s also created a backup plan in case it fails. He said he would ship the ten worst offenders to another jail in Polk County and most of the other inmates would be released.
The levy vote is scheduled for May 20th.
KGW reporter Tim Gordon contributed to this report.