County gets funds for jail, body cams, mental health

The state gave Island County more than $1.5 million for the jail, body cameras and health programs.

The state will be footing the bill for a renovation of the Island County jail, body cameras on deputies and a unique mental health pilot program for youth.

The state legislature funded three of Island County’s legislative priorities this year, to the tune of more than $1.5 million over the biennium from the operating budget.

The state is providing $275,000 to the Island County Sheriff’s Office to buy body cameras for deputies. Sheriff Rick Felici has long been supportive of the body-worn video cameras but didn’t have the funding for them previously.

“They are definitely worth the investment as far as the transparency and data available to help solve problems,” Felici said.

“I’m confident they will disprove more complaints than they prove,” he added.

The Oak Harbor Police Department got body cameras last year, but the county didn’t have the funding. Noting that more than half of police departments in the nation have them, Felici included the cameras as a budget priority for 2021.

The office will have ongoing costs related to digital storage and public records requests, he added.

Felici’s office will also get $600,000 for upgrades to the jail security system. He said the project will replace the jail’s antiquated security systems, including software improvements and new and better surveillance cameras in the facility.

The jail’s electrically controlled doors and locks are wearing out, Felici said, and are actually long past their regular service life, which can be a concern when it comes to keeping inmates in.

In addition, lawmakers allocated $700,000 to the county Human Services Department to create and implement a pilot program to help youth who are experiencing mental health concerns. The details of the program haven’t been completely established, but the intent it to include school-based behavioral health education, assessment and short-term treatment, referrals to long-term treatment and support for existing programs, according to Lynda Austin, director of Human Services.

State Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, said he sponsored the request for the funding after hearing from people in the community who are concerned about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on children’s mental health.

After speaking with school district leaders, county experts and local pediatricians, Paul recognized that the issue is larger than the pandemic, although the isolation has exacerbated the problems. He said it’s clear from the data that it’s especially vital for young people who are struggling to get mental health intervention.

The state also allocated $4.5 million from the Housing Trust Fund to expand the Didgwalic Wellness Center in Skagit County, a project that the county commissioners have supported. The project includes the addition of a detox facility, emergency housing and transitional housing.

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