The partial federal government shutdown is causing late payments to the Columbia County Jail for holding 61 federal prisoners.
Under contract, the U.S. Marshals Service pays the jail $92 a day for each inmate the county holds on its behalf. Those payments have been delayed since the partial shutdown started Dec. 21.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Weaver said December’s payment — which typically comes in early January — is late. It appears the jail will be without payment until the government reopens.
But Weaver said the reimbursement, though integral to the jail’s budget, is one of several jail funding sources, so it is not yet facing a crunch. The number of federal inmates held in Columbia County fluctuates often, usually between 60 and 85, so the money received for holding them is usually about 20 percent of the jail’s budget, Weaver said.
“We’re fortunate to not live paycheck to paycheck,” Weaver said. But if multiple payments from the Marshals Office are missed, “then we would have to go to the county commissioners and see what we can do.”
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(The Cowlitz County Jail does not contract to hold federal prisoners and is therefore not affected by the shutdown.)
Columbia County Jail staff is still preparing bills, but the employee who typically receives them at the Marshals Service is furloughed and the invoices are essentially ignored, Weaver said. In his time at the jail, Weaver said he hasn’t seen a shutdown cause more than one delayed payment.
The jail has the option to request interest on the late payments, but that decision would ultimately be up to Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley, Weaver said.
He also said the jail isn’t likely to see any other strain from the shutdown other than delayed payments.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the relationship we have with the Marshal Service. But we yield to the citizens of this county to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Weaver said.