Joe Helm

DAYTON — Some changes are in store for law enforcement in Columbia County, with newly elected Sheriff Joe Helm now steering the ship.

Among those are shifting the administration, finding more sources of money, acquiring volunteers and — someday — building a new jail.

Although he said he’d like to do more, budget constraints prevent it.

“The budget isn’t what I wanted, but I’m making some adjustments,” said Helm, who was chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office for many years until being elected sheriff in November.

Helm announced some of his plans at a monthly economic-development gathering last week in Dayton called “Cup of Joe.” January’s meeting took place at Chief Spring’s Fire and Irons Brew Pub on Main Street.

Columbia County commissioners in December passed the Sheriff’s Office budget of $1,172,009. It’s about 18 percent of the county’s budget, which is roughly $6.6 million. That $1.17 million only goes so far, Helm said.

Despite the financial constraints, however, Helm said he plans to add a sixth deputy to fill a vacant position, and he is searching for a chief deputy. Additionally he’s requesting citizens to help serve as reserve deputies or in any task they feel capable of handling.

In 2007, the county had 10 reserve deputies patrolling the streets, Helm said. Now his office has one or two working. Some are volunteers and others are paid. But not all people can tackle the responsibility, he said. One reserve deputy, Ken Foxe, often works extra hours, unpaid, he said.

In addition, anyone can donate time to help the department with tasks such as paperwork, community networking, search and rescue or providing any expertise to deputies and/or citizens.

To help with money, Helm said he’s seeking grants and getting his employees, such as new Undersheriff Robbie Patterson, state certified to train other departments’ staff.

“Giving training brings in money,” he said. “This will allow us to provide the best quality training to our deputies. It will also allow us to host training and be a resource for other law enforcement agencies in the region and state.”

Another subject broached was that of a new jail, which has been on the wish list of many prior sheriffs in the county. The 1887-built, 11-bed facility inside the basement of the county courthouse is outdated and small, he said. The Sheriff’s Office has made it work by having contracts with the Washington State Penitentiary and other county jails to hold inmates.

The contracts are helpful, but they don’t generate money like he had hoped, Helm said. Housing inmates from other facilities could provide funding, but Columbia County has limited room right now. Additionally, deputies who could otherwise be out patrolling and solving crime have to spend time serving food to inmates and laundering their clothes and bedding.

Helm said a new jail likely would be somewhere down the road.

Meanwhile, people who want to volunteer at the Sheriff’s Office can call dispatch at 509-382-2518.

Emily Thornton can be reached at or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.