Kootenai County Sheriff suing Commissioners over public safety funding

COEUR D'ALENE - Sheriff Rocky Watson is planning to file a lawsuit against Kootenai County commissioners over a lack of funding for his department and Sheriff Watson wants the county to pay all the expenses to file that suit.

Watson recently asked commissioners to pay for his legal expenses to sue the county on claims not enough money are being allocated to support his department. Commissioners said no and have hired a lawyer to defend themselves against Watson?s suit.

?These budget cuts and this funding level is effecting public safety,? Watson said.

Built back in the 80s the sheriff's department admin building is old and, according to Watson, in desperate need of improvements. Deputies and staff use an aging vehicle fleet and overflowing evidence room.

The neighboring jail sitting to the east is overcrowded forcing the county to spend extra cash shuttling inmates to neighboring facilities.

?The commissioners and the sheriff's department both know we're in a bad situation there, we're over crowded and its very costly the way that we're doing business,? Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee said.

Voters were asked at least three times to fund improvements to the sheriff's department but every time taxpayers rejected the improvement requests. Commissioner Todd Tondee says public safety is a priority but the challenge is finding the money.

?We just don't have that money in our budget. No more new money is coming in and we're trying very hard and diligently to not increase taxes to our citizens,? Tondee said.

Deputies have seen a 17-percent jump in crime and Watson claims the $17 Million his agency receives is a small fraction of the county's total budget so now he's turning to the courts.

?The issue is, is there an obligation of the elected officials to take care of the mandated services before they take care of the un-mandated services,? Sheriff Watson said.

Since Watson plans to file the lawsuit on behalf of the public, commissioners are being asked to foot the bill. It?s on that point where both parties disagree.

?We feel very strongly that we don't need to spend tax payer dollars suing ourselves, that's not the best use of our dollars," Commissioner Tondee said.

Watson says if a judge denies his request he may turn to private funding to pay for the lawsuit against the county.