Missoula and the Bitterroot don't always see eye to eye. We're certainly guilty here in the north of writing off Ravalli County's conservative majority as a bit nutty. Folks to the south have raised a ruckus on Missoula's streets and in our municipal meetings over taxes and bathroom signs. But now, Ravalli County is starting to act like the neighbor who complains about your dog's barking, then asks to borrow your lawnmower.
Last week, the Ravalli County Commission decided to shut its juvenile detention center three weeks earlier than originally planned. The closure itself was approved last month in an attempt to balance its books, but this latest vote means the facility is—as of Oct. 7—officially shuttered. Nine employees are jobless, and Ravalli County is considering other places to send its troublesome youths.
The lead candidate so far? The 24-bed juvenile detention facility in Missoula, which houses, on average, eight juvenile delinquents at a time. The cost of a night's stay is just over $200, an expense Ravalli County will most likely absorb if a contract is signed. No decision has been made yet on who will be responsible for transporting the youths; Missoula is standing firm that the duty shouldn't fall to us.
Ravalli County Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher says the closure could save his county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year—an attractive budget-balancing tidbit. But we can't help feeling a bit used, especially since the commissioners are facing two lawsuits related to that very budget. One was filed by the county's own justices of the peace. Even Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman sounded off on the commissioners' performance in an email last week.
"During my time in office," Hoffman wrote to the commission, "I have yet to see a less transparent process regarding the board's budget decisions than what I witnessed this year." Hoffman added that the commissioners had disregarded advice given by local authorities that they shouldn't close the juvenile detention center. "We're transporting our issues to Missoula County and making it more difficult for us to get these kids on the straight and narrow," he said.
We won't try to understand the Rubik's cube that is the Ravalli County Commission's logic, but we sure hope they aren't cutting costs at our expense.
Here's the deal, Ravalli County: You return the lawnmower with a full tank of gas, and we'll promise to stop with the banjo jokes.