Sunnyside lowers jail bed rates to make it more affordable

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Money isn't coming in like it used to at the Sunnyside jail. Now, the city could be out more than $100,000. The problem is empty beds.

It's what Sunnyside doesn't want to see: an empty bed.

"Bodies in the beds is what's going to pay the bills," said Sunnyside Corrections Officer Andrew Gutierrez.

These days, there aren't close to enough bodies to fill the 70 beds in the Sunnyside jail. On average, Sunnyside is holding 15 inmates from different agencies.

Sergeant Andrew Gutierrez says the jail needs to fill 40 contracted beds to break even. Sunnyside has relied heavily on housing inmates for the U.S. Marshals Office. Two years ago, those inmates made up 68% of the city's jail population. Now, it's down to 7%.

"We didn't necessarily try to put our eggs in one basket, it just happened that way and it flooded with the Marshal's inmates and then all of a sudden that market dried and so you're kind of left holding this bag of 'uh-oh,' said Gutierrez.

That loss is serious to Sunnyside's bottom line. City Manager Don Day says the city could lose up to $200,000 in jail revenue. Money would have to come from the general fund to offset the losses and limit Sunnyside's plans.

"It would certainly affect our desire to improve our fleet with the police department," said Sunnyside City Manager Don Day. "It might slow us up in hiring replacement personnel."

Day says cutting services would be the last resort.

"There's not a lot of places to cut so any cuts would be painful so we would have to look at the entire organization and determine where we can pull something out that's going to be the least painful," said Day.

Gutierrez wants to minimize any damage in the future by not being dependent on one agency. His goal is that no agency would supply more than 10% of the population.

"If you take a hit on one of them, it's okay," said Gutierrez. "It's a hit, but you can replenish that one with another one."

Sunnyside already started by trying to be more competitive with other cities. Monday night, City Council voted to make jail beds more affordable. They were as high as $54 a day. Now, they could be as low as $40. And, Sunnyside will offer those new rates to its current contracts.