The Haines Borough Police Department and dispatch services could face a dramatic funding loss under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget. It would eliminate funding the state Department of Corrections, or DOC, gives each year to law enforcement in 15 small communities. That funding is meant to help communities run local jails, but in Haines it supports more than that.
The Alaska DOC contracts with Haines police to operate a three-cell, six-bed jail. Under that contract, the DOC gave the Haines Police Department about $392,000 this year.
That money is meant to help run the local jail, where people who are arrested are held for short periods of time. But the state allotment funds more than just the jail. It made up 40 percent of the police department and dispatch’s entire budgets this year.
So, if the DOC were to cut the community jails money, the Haines Police Department could lose almost half of its funding. Police Chief Bill Musser says that loss could shut down the jail, and it could also mean downsizing the five-officer, five-dispatcher departments.
“Ultimately the cuts may reduce staffing in both dispatch and in terms of the officers,” Musser said.
Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Remond Henderson says they’re learning that communities might rely on the state funding more than the DOC realized.
“We are not surprised at the fact that communities are coming forward and saying this will have an impact,” Henderson said. “We did not know what the extent of the impact would be.”
The community jails contracts cost the DOC about $10.5 million this year. Southeast communities that would be affected are Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and Craig. There are two DOC-run corrections facilities in Southeast where inmates can serve out longer sentences – in Juneau and Ketchikan.
Henderson says the governor has charged DOC with a general fund budget reduction of eight percent effective July 1. Zeroing out the community jails funding would take care of about 40 percent of that reduction. Henderson notes they’re also looking at how to cut costs at larger corrections facilities.
One reason the DOC is considering this cut is because a number of community jail beds go empty. Henderson says of the about 157 beds in the 15 jails, only half are filled on average each night. In Haines, that number is even lower. Of the six beds in the Haines jail, Henderson says on average only one is used per day.
Chief Musser says that shows that crime is low in Haines. But the jail is still important.
“We may only occupy one bed, that’s nice in terms of the community, but we still have to be able to hold them there when we do have a problem.”
The Haines jail is classified as a Rural Jail Facility. It serves not only Haines police arrests, but Skagway police, state troopers, federal border agents and Coast Guard.
Musser says the jail held a total of 58 inmates throughout 2014. Inmates can serve up to 14 days in the jail.
“Most of the misdemeanors we get here are usually short, simple sentences,” Musser said. “For instance, anywhere for three upwards to 10 days for a DUI depending on the level of the DUI.”
Not having a local jail could mean people who are sentenced to serve even a short amount of time would go to Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.
Walker’s proposed budget will likely go through a number of revisions before gaining the state legislature’s approval. The final budget will be decided in May. Meanwhile, Henderson says the DOC is reaching out to communities to see what kind of fallout the funding cuts would cause.
Since the funding makes up 40 percent of the Haines Police Department and dispatch’s budgets, Musser says he’ll work with other police chiefs to voice their opposition to the cuts.
“It’s gonna affect operations and it could affect personnel,” Musser said. “And it may well impact people’s ability to visit or have contact with people in the jail, so they’re gonna spend more money to make their visitations by having to travel. I think it’s gonna increase cost to the state because of travel. But bottom line for us is it may impact our services because we may have to reduce if we have moneys that we’re used to using that are no longer available.”
Musser says if they have to let go police officer or dispatchers because of the funding cut, it wouldn’t just impact the jail. It would impact the police’s community services as whole.
Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa says this is the largest potential cut to Haines funding he’s seen in Walker’s proposed budget. If it goes through, Sosa says Haines will either have to lose some police services or figure out a way to make up for the funding loss.