YC Jail downsizing to holding facility

Full-time operations at the Yuma County Jail are being suspended.
Sheriff Todd Combs made the announcement last week, stating that his office is unable to maintain a staff schedule that allows for a safe environment for the inmates or the staff at this time.
It is a situation that has been brewing for several months, finally coming to a head in recent weeks as the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office kept losing jail staff to other jobs.
Sheriff Combs, who is nearing the end of his first term, and is running unopposed in the November 8 mail-in election, made it a priority to get the jail full staffed and bring inmates back to Yuma County, as well as contract other counties’ inmates.
He got it accomplished, and the YCSO even was making good income housing out-of-county inmates. However, COVID slowed that down, and Combs said the prevalent use of Personal Recognizance Bonds has resulted in less inmates.
The sheriff, though, cited low pay being the main reason in losing staff. He said the starting wage at the jail is $16 per hour, and the jail is losing people to entry-level jobs paying $21 to $22 per hour.
He said it takes 11-12 employees to cover a schedule, and he was projecting to having only five jail staff left at the beginning of the year.
“Being a jailer is one of the hardest jobs in the county and trying to find someone who is qualified and is willing to work for $16 an hour is extremely slim,” he responded to the Pioneer. “Since I have become Sheriff and am now responsible for a jail I have had an education on what it takes to work in one…it’s a tough job.”
Combs and the jail supervisors met with the Yuma County Commissioners about the situation in February. Included in the information presented was increasing starting pay to $18 per hour.
Yuma County Commissioner Trent Bushner, who is nearing the end of a lengthy run on the Board of County Commissioners, acknowledged having the conversation in February, and better communication since probably would have helped. He said he takes responsibility for not keeping up the conversation with the YCSO.
“None of the commissioners want the jail closed or lose employees,” Bushner said.
He said pinning the staffing problem on the salary scale probably is fair, but the county is challenged with a finite source of revenue. Property tax accounts for most of the county’s revenue, and severance tax funds are way down from the heyday of natural gas production in the county several years ago.
“We just don’t have a ton of money laying around,” Bushner said.
He said the bottom line is to get the jail open again with inmates.
The jail is not completely shutdown, nor ever well be. It will remain open as a holding facility for recent arrests, as well as transports back and forth from other facilities for court dates.
Combs said the current transition will take place over the next few weeks. His office currently is in negotiations with other counties to house inmates.
Combs said that at this point he is not sure what kind of budget impact there will be for contracting out inmates.
“We charged other counties $50 a day to house their inmates here,” he responded to the Pioneer’s question. “Some of the facilities we are looking at charge $55 to $65 a day. There will also be the cost of transport that will need to be figured in. Obviously the price of gas will effect this cost.”
Combs noted in a memo this month to the commissioners that his plan is to hire enough qualified staff to reopen to the jail. Bushner said the commissioners want that to happen, as well.
The commissioners and county department heads currently are working on the 2023 budget. The jail is not the only department within the county that is experiencing salary and staffing issues.
Combs stated his plan to reopen the jail is contingent upon the ability to pay $20 per hour, adding it is appropriate for the job market in this area. (He previously had presented the starting wages for a wide variety of jobs in Yuma County and northeast Colorado.) He said revenue generated by housing out-of-county inmates, as well as those awaiting placement by the Department of Corrections, should go toward salaries.
In his recent memo to the commissioners, Combs stated: “If we cannot get the jail running I will plan on fewer staff and we will go to a utility deputy position that will do transports, court security and civil paper service when scheduling allows. The starting wage for those deputies should still be $20 an hour or I will not be able to hire help to do that job.”