CANYON COUNTY – There's a battle in Canyon County among elected officials.
The sheriff says the commissioners refuse to invest in employees, forcing them to other agencies - and in turn forcing the sheriff to indefinitely suspend a critical program to the community.
The program is called Sheriff's Inmate Labor Detail. It's an alternative program for low risk offenders who, instead of jail time, do community service.
Last year 6,055 inmates utilized the program, putting in 48,440 man hours.
At the Caldwell Housing Authority, money is tight as it works to provide low income housing to the poorest people in Canyon County.
It's just one of roughly 40 organizations that use the Sheriff's Inmate Labor Detail.
In 2013 CHA used 1,492 inmate laborers who contributed 11,936 man hours with a value of $100,000.
"That savings allows us to keep the housing affordable here at the housing authority," said Mike Dittenber, Executive Director, Caldwell Housing Authority.
Come Monday August 4, that program with 330 inmates enrolled and another 400 pending will be suspended indefinitely because Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue says he doesn't have the staff to keep it going.
"The highest percentage of people that are leaving are for higher wages in law enforcement right here in our valley," said Donahue.
Donahue says he lost seven employees just last week to other agencies in the valley. He's currently down 23 positions, 18 of which are in the jail. By federal mandate the jail has to maintain certain staffing levels.
"I have officers who are wearing a badge and a gun who have told me they qualify for assistance, federal assistance with food stamps. What in the hell are we thinking of?" said Donahue.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the commissioners said the sheriff's office budget will see roughly an percent increase in salaries and benefits during the first two years of Donahue's term, with an increase of the overall budget by more than $2 million.
"As County Commissioners, we strongly believe that a continued Labor Detail program is in the best interest of Canyon County and its taxpayers, and are interested in creating solutions rather than exacerbating problems."
Commissioners say they plan to work out a way to continue the program with or without the sheriff's help.
"I hope that whatever issues caused it to go away, I hope they're resolved quickly, and I hope that we can see the sheriff's inmate labor program return to Canyon County in short order," said Dittenber.
As for the inmates who are currently in the program, Donahue says he'll try and keep it staffed so those sentenced to it can finish out. After that, the program won't be an option.