UPDATE: Clark County Jail had record number of suicide attempts in 2011

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter



Clark County in 2011

428,000 residents

76,179 calls to 911

982,939 meals served in the Clark County Jail

4,774 lane miles of streets in unincorporated areas swept

332 hours spent cleaning up after vandals in parks

67,699 Regional park shelter attendance

3,536 complaints about barking dogs and other four-legged nuisances

A record number of suicide attempts at the Clark County Jail was among key points highlighted in a study of county services.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey released a "Service Efforts and Accomplishments" report Wednesday, which covers five years' worth of information about the county's most visible programs including the Clark County Sheriff's Office, the Public Works department and Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation department.

"We looked at cost, services provided, and, to the extent possible, tried to identify citizen awareness and satisfaction," Kimsey said. "This information can help officials and managers better understand the results of funding decisions on service delivery and related public perceptions."

The county's population grew by 13,000 between 2007 and 2011 — a 3 percent increase — while county revenues have declined.

The county's general fund budget, projected at $280 million for two years, has been cut by $62 million since the 2007-08 budget and 270 positions have been eliminated.

The cuts, according to the survey, have not translated into a significant reduction in citizen satisfaction, said Kim

sey, who also released the results of a survey of 1,307 residents.

The number of sworn officers in the Clark County Sheriff's Office has been reduced by nearly 10 percent, and response times have fluctuated, according to the report. Response times for the most urgent (life-threatening) calls increased slightly between 2007 and 2011, from 7.2 minutes to 7.5 minutes. Response time for in-process crimes increased from 9.9 minutes to 11.3 minutes.

In the survey, about three-quarters of the respondents said their feeling of safety was "good" or "excellent," and half of the respondents rated law enforcement as the most important service the county provides.

At the Clark County Jail, however, the findings weren't as good.

There were 18 suicide attempts in 2011; one inmate died.

Between 2007 and 2011, the jail "continues to be heavily impacted by special-needs inmates: the mentally ill, geriatric, physically or mentally challenged or violent," according to the report. "Suicide attempts in the jail have continued to rise, more than doubling since 2007."

Sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Anderson said Wednesday that after each attempt or suicide the custody staff reviews what happened and what could have been done to prevent the incident.

"When you have as many people as we do in custody with mental health issues, you just never know who is going to do it," Anderson said. "The difficult part is that we have to be right 100 percent of the time. They only have to be right once."

The jail had an average daily population last year of 706 people; medical costs have increased from $2.7 million in 2007 to $3.2 million last year.

Special-needs inmates have also created space problems, as a six-person medical unit regularly houses double that number and some inmates need to be isolated because of safety concerns that leads to overcrowding in the general population.

Western State Hospital, where inmates are sent for mental evaluations, has had its funding slashed, so inmates are waiting longer to be transferred to the Tacoma-area hospital, Anderson said.

"Everyone is having to do more with less," he said.

Not counting inmate medical costs, total spending for the county's mental health services in the current fiscal year hit $30 million, a 64 percent increase since 2007. Federal and state grants help pay those bills.

The Clark County Department of Community Services' Regional Support Network contracts with community mental health agencies to coordinate care for approximately 86,792 Medicaid enrollees (children and adults) as well as for other county residents who are eligible for state-funded or grant-funded services.

Wednesday's report also examined services provided by, among other departments, public works and parks. The average pavement condition index on county roads for 2011 has been calculated at 80, exceeding the goal of 76. (When a rating falls below 60, the road needs extensive repair).

As for regional parks, the county continues to fall short of its goal of 10 acres for every 1,000 residents. The county has 5.3 acres of regional parks for every 1,000 residents.

According to people who filled out the survey, parks aren't a priority.

The county mailed a total of 7,500 surveys to randomly selected residents living in unincorporated and incorporated areas; 1,307 people filled out the survey and returned it.

Of those people, 83 percent rated the "quality of life, safety and service delivery in Clark County" as either "good" or "excellent."

Thirty-one percent of respondents ranked "employment/economy" as the top issue facing Clark County, up from 25 percent of respondents in 2009.

Education, crime, county taxes and health care rounded out the top five issues.

Respondents indicated the three most important services are law enforcement, social services and infrastructure.

Law enforcement was ranked as "high importance/high satisfaction," meaning people felt they are well-served. Parks, however, exceeded expectations -- 71 percent of respondents felt that the county does a "good" or "excellent" job of providing parks, but parks ranked low in terms of what services people felt are the most important.

The biggest room for improvement, according to the respondents, is in social services. Only one-third of respondents ranked the county as "good" or "excellent" in providing social services.

Read the report here.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.