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Counties Collide Over Sex Offender Housing

Polk County bucks Marion County and risks $850000 state corrections grant

POLK COUNTY -- The Union Gospel Mission in Salem houses homeless people from across the region.

Polk County Community Corrections lets recently released homeless ex-felons under its supervision -- including sex offenders -- go there to sleep.

Marion County officials want Polk County offenders to stay on their side of the Willamette. The law, like the mission, is on Marion County's side, said state Corrections Assistant Director Ginger Martin.

Without an agreement between the counties, offenders Polk County supervises need to live in Polk County, Martin said. If Polk corrections officials keep sending offenders across the river, she said, Polk County could lose its state corrections grant.

Polk County receives $850,000 per year for community corrections.

Polk Community Corrections Director Marty Silbernagel said he will continue to use the mission for Polk County's homeless offenders. "The status is to continue to do what we've been doing and continue to have discussions locally."

Polk County might have five to 10 offenders at the mission at any given time, Silbernagel said.

If Marion County allowed the offenders to use the mission, Martin said, there would be no conflict with state law. "Ideally, you want the two counties who use that regional facility to find a way" to share it, she said.

"Marion County isn't really interested in that."

In a Feb. 26 letter, Martin found Polk County in violation of law requiring felony offenders meet state requirements for an out-of-county transfer. She also found that Polk County can't transfer sex offenders to Marion County without Marion County's permission.

Polk County Commissioner Phil Walker said Polk commissioners have no immediate plans to change how they deal with homeless offenders. "We're not doing something that's wrong," he said. "That's the correct location for these people, not somewhere in the suburbs."

Martin agrees the mission serves more than just Marion County. However, if the counties can't come to an agreement, she said current law ties her hands.

"There's no clear right and wrong here," she said, "but there is that administrative rule we have to fall back on whenever there's a conflict."

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