The Umatilla County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to remove the community corrections division from the sheriff's department, making it an independent county department.
Chairman Dennis Doherty said he has been in favor of the move for quite some time and explained how the switch made sense for a number of reasons, one being the different missions of law enforcement and community corrections.
He also noted that as the recently ratified contract for sheriff's office employees required major rebudgeting for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the timing for the move was appropriate. Despite some reallocations already being done, Doherty said the contract still will roughly cost $450,000 more than was initially budgeted within the department.
"I thought that to help expedite, simplify and conclude what we have to do in terms of rebalancing that budget that would be a good time to make this split," Doherty said.
As community corrections are funded by the state, he said, keeping those dollars exclusively to the purpose of community corrections would incur no negative scrutiny from the state - which could result in funding decreases. Community corrections also may begin renting beds from the jail facility.
"I have always thought that it might be beneficial to have this little bit of a firewall between the two programs so that we don't jeopardize community corrections," Doherty said.
Sheriff John Trumbo went on the record to say while he was not opposed to the change in operation, he did not like being "kept out of the loop" in the discussion.
Trumbo said he had casual conversations about the possibility of the adjustment, but only Monday learned the matter was coming to vote. As acting department head over the division, he said he should have been more involved.
"I think there needs to be a good look at the whole picture and really make sure that the decision we make is made for the betterment of the public and not because of the dollar," said Trumbo, adding he had asked for a list of the benefits to be gained from changing the program. "On the face it looks great, and I don't deny that. I'm just concerned that there's going to be something that we've missed."
Doherty, along with community corrections director Mark Royal, said the switch was not new, but something that had been discussed and considered for quite some time.
Umatilla County was one of eight out of the state's 38 counties that operated community corrections within the sheriff's office. Still to be determined are the resultant personnel shifts and related compensation for the new community corrections department head position.
In other business, the board officially adopted a new fruit pest-control ordinance that will give the county enforcement capabilities to remove diseased fruit trees and vines that pose a threat to the livelihood of fruit growers. That ordinance was largely spearheaded by a group of apple growers in the Milton-Freewater area, four of whom attended the hearing to express their support.