Jonathan Meyer

Money for Lewis County Cold Case Unit to Be Provided for 2018

By Justyna Tomtas / jtomtas@chronline.com

The area’s cold case unit will continue with its investigations of unsolved murders next year after the Board of Lewis County Commissioners agreed to dedicate $31,401 for the two retired Centralia Police Department detectives who take on the work. 

During a budget discussion on Monday, Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, Sheriff Rob Snaza and other employees from the sheriff’s office advocated for funding of the unit after money for the program was inadvertently cut to correct changes in the prosecutor’s budget, according to county staff.

Meyer will attempt to absorb the cost into his 2018 budget, like he did in 2017, but asked commissioners to provide the funds just in case that was not a possibility.

“My goal is to have approval for this,” Meyer said. “My second goal is to not spend a dime of it. My hope is like I’ve done every year is to have extra money in my budget to cover that cost, but I just want the assurance that if I cannot do that, that money will be there.” 

The prosecutor’s office has a lot of expenditures in its budget that are based on estimates, because the office cannot predict how much money will be spent on interpreters and other costs that depend on the caseload and types of crimes prosecuted. 

The cold case unit established at the beginning of this year is currently seeking justice for six victims who were killed in unsolved cases.

The retired detectives work parttime on the cases. Due to requirements of the Law Enforcement Officers’ and Fire Fighters’ retirement plans — otherwise known as LEOFF — the employees can only work 69 hours a month. One of the two detectives is limited to even fewer hours. 

Snaza informed commissioners that the sheriff’s office would be unable to work on the cold cases if funding for the unit was not provided.

“We can only do so much, so as far as the continued investigation, we have to really assess where we are at,” he said. “I’m not trying to make any demands, it just takes a lot of time to do these cases.” 

Meyer said it is important to bring justice to the victims and their families. He also said it is vital to get the perpetrators prosecuted.

“There are bad people on the street that shouldn’t be out there walking around,” he said. “This is a vital function. It’s money well spent.” 

Commissioners said they supported the work of the cold case unit, but in a tight budget as they try to ease the use of reserves, everything was being looked at closely. 

“It is and it isn’t about money,” Commissioner Bobby Jackson said. “I don’t want it to be assumed I’m putting an hourly rate on people’s lives because I’m not. I recognize the importance of this, but at the same time, it is what it is in the budget right now.”

Commissioners originally expressed a desire to adopt a structurally balanced budget, but that will no longer happen, with an estimated $1 million gap between the expenditures and revenues the county expects in 2018.

Commissioners asked if the hours of the employees could be reduced, but Meyer and Snaza said the two staffers in the cold case unit already ensure they only work when they need to. 

Commissioner Gary Stamper also said he understands the importance of the unit. He recently spoke with a woman who is related to a cold case investigation.

“If I were in that position, whoever’s case is solved, I’d be willing to give $31,000 just to solve that case,” Stamper said. 

If the cost of the cold case unit is not completely absorbed into the prosecutor’s budget, there will be a budget amendment made at a later date. Commissioners Stamper and Jackson supported the move. Commissioner Edna Fund had to leave before the decision was made because of another meeting she was required to attend. 

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