Jonathan Meyer

Funding for Lewis County’s Cold Case Unit in Limbo

By Justyna Tomtas / jtomtas@chronline.com

The funding for Lewis County’s cold case unit is currently in limbo after it was cut from the prosecutor office’s budget following corrections to line items made by county staff.

A meeting to provide the funds for the unit, which became operational this year, will be scheduled for next week.

As the Board of Lewis County Commissioners continue to make decisions on the budget, money that funds the unit, which is comprised of two retired Centralia Police Department detectives, was removed to fix inaccurate figures county staff identified in the budget submitted by Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, according to county staff.

“What they did to put it into their budget is they reduced items like interfund rates,” Becky Butler, the county’s budget manager, said on Wednesday. “We put those items back in, but I had to reduce extra help to what was approved which is $10,000.”

The difference led to a reduction of about $27,000 in payment for the unit that is in charge of investigating unsolved murders.

According to Meyer, the cold case squad was approved by the commissioners for the 2017 year. The agreement stated the money had to be absorbed into the prosecutor’s budget.

That occurred, but for the 2018 year given set budget limitations, Meyer said he had a shortfall of $27,000 in comparison to this year’s budget.

Lewis County Commissioners
In this file photo, Lewis County Commissioners Gary Stamper, Edna Fund and Bobby Jackson are pictured.

Matt Baide / mbaide@chronline.com

In his budget worksheet, Meyer had cut interfund rates — or intergovernmental fees paid for services like the upkeep of facilities or IT services — after he felt the custodial service provided was not worth the cost.

Butler said the original funds for the unit were approved on a one-time basis and needed to be reexamined annually.

“He just put it into his budget and removed other items that couldn’t be removed,” she said. “He never officially asked for it but I understand that the commissioners agree it’s important to continue so I’m asking for direction.”

Butler recommended that commissioners meet with Meyer in further budget meetings similar to those that took place with Assessor Dianne Dorey when she asked for additional money to fund a new appraiser position that was ultimately approved.

Meyer told The Chronicle he did not submit the item as an increase request because it had been approved last year.

“I shouldn’t have to ask for an increase for something that has already been approved,” he said.

The cold case squad is currently concentrating on one case, he said, but with the help of the sheriff’s office, there is a list of other cold cases in the county.

“I think it’s important for the victims themselves. They deserve justice,” Meyer said of the unit. “The remaining family members of the victims deserve justice as well. They need to know who killed them and what happened … In addition there are some dangerous people out there running around that shouldn’t be running around and they need to be brought to justice.”

Steve Walton, central services director, said that in the past Meyer had stated the county should focus on what is needed versus what is nice to have.

“I wasn’t convinced yesterday that it was a have to have,” Walton said on Wednesday about the prosecutor’s meeting a day earlier. 

Commissioner Edna Fund said that although the work is important, it may also be a “wish list item.”

“We all agree we want cases to be solved, but do we need it?,” she asked. “It’s tough in budget times to be putting something in again that we haven’t done before except for last year.”

Along with the fix to interfund rates, commissioners did not approve a $5,000 clothing allowance for criminal prosecutors. A member of the citizen’s advisory committee on the budget had reached out to Men’s Wearhouse to see if the suits could be donated.

Meyer said Men’s Wearhouse instead sent the prosecutor’s office six ties which will be “communal ties,” and also sent six coupons for 40 percent off one regular priced item.

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