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Westside cities drop claims against county

YAKIMA - Seattle and 33 other cities agreed yesterday to drop a claim for damages filed last September against Yakima County.

The cities, all from King County, have been under contract with the county since 2002 for housing their inmates here.

Trouble began last year over a delay in opening the county's new jail. The cities filed the claim in protest of the delay.

"The claims represented the unhappiness of those cities when the new jail wasn't opened," said Larry Peterson, a deputy prosecuting attorney with Yakima County's corporate counsel division.

Two claims were filed on Sept. 25, 2006, one representing 33 of the King County cities and a separate one on behalf of Seattle.

"We were very much concerned with getting some existing construction problems resolved before we brought inmates in to the (new) jail," Peterson said of the delay. "They (the cities) wanted it opened sooner."

Peterson said the claims did not specify a dollar amount. One King County city, Renton, did not file a claim but has filed to terminate its contract with the Yakima County jail system. He estimated that the contracts generate about $9 million in revenue each year for the county.

Yesterday the cities decided to drop the claims and, along with county commissioners, recommitted to the original contract inked almost five years ago which expires in 2010.

The action stems in part from a pledge made by commissioners last November to have the new jail opened by March 2007. Yakima County actually surpassed that deadline, housing inmates in the new jail on Feb. 27.

"That was a big step for this process," Peterson observed. "It made a big difference to the cities that we were committed to that."

It also helped that a consultant working with the cities gave Yakima County high marks for its inmate housing program.

Peterson said the county is interested in renewing the contracts when they expire in 2010.

Priority one now, he added, is keeping Renton in the fold as that city filed to terminate last August and could break off the contract with Yakima County as soon as this August.

"We hope they will withdraw the notice of termination," Peterson said.

He credited work by the county's department of corrections officials in getting back in the good graces with the other 34 cities.

"What's important here is that the department of corrections has done a lot of good work and that's why we were able to resolve these matters," Peterson said. "The county has invested a tremendous amount of money in jail operations."

Peterson called yesterday's action by the cities and the county a "relief".

He added, "There's been a substantial effort over the last six months to resolve this."

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