Lake County Sheriff Don Bell has sent a letter to the editors of western Montana newspapers in response to charges by an opponent in the sheriff’s race that he had not been addressing the need for a new county jail until the time came to run for reelection.

Bell’s letter is included here:

Citizens of Lake County,

It has been an honor to serve this county since 2015 as your elected Sheriff and Coroner.  I have enjoyed your support for these past few years, and will ask for your continued support in re-electing me for this important office in the 2018 election.  I believe my accomplishments thus far demonstrate that I am the right choice for the people of Lake County. 

Shrinking budgets forced me to make critical decisions in this office over the past 3 years, but those challenges were overcome with a great deal of teamwork within LCSO.  A reorganization of personnel has increased productivity, even with less money to go around.  An overall reduction in overtime of 3500 hours per year since I took office has resulted in well over $100,000 in savings to my budget.  Due to other budgetary shortfalls of the county, this savings ensured that the citizens of Lake County did not experience a lesser degree of service from the Sheriff's Office.  In fact, I believe having to do more with less money has provided the LCSO team with a challenge to meet and overcome.  We have proven that we can do this, and for that, I am very proud of these professionals who proudly serve you every day. 

As you well know, the jail provides us with yet another major challenge to overcome, and one that takes constant and calculated attention.  In the past 3 years, we have implemented creative solutions to better manage the outdated facility, to include the Sheriff's Labor Detail, and participation in the Drug/Treatment Court.  Extensive study by my administrative team has been conducted by visiting other facilities, and communicating with different consultants and the County Commissioners about the problems and solutions.  This challenge will not magically disappear, but under my leadership, we have and will continue to mitigate the impact on the community to the best of our abilities until a new facility can become a reality. 

The oath I swore to support, protect, and defend the constitution and to discharge my duties with fidelity is something I take very seriously.  My record of service and accomplishments clearly demonstrates this.

Donald R. Bell – Sheriff

( The letter was sent to the Missoulian ,The Associated Press, Valley Journal, Star Herald, Flathead Beacon and the Leader-Advertiser)

Bell said he has been working on the problem of a lack of space in the Lake County Jail since he took office in 2014.

“That entails going to other jails and looking at them, looking at designs, talking with architects, so we’ve been working on this for over three years,” Bell said. “We still have the restraint of a lack of dollars here in Lake County, so we have to deal with that. I’ve cut the budget down by reducing overtime and we’ve been working hard as a team here in Lake County to get everything accomplished within a limited budget.”

Bell said he has been seeking federal help for a new jail.

“We’ve been working on getting the Federal Institute of Corrections to do an assessment since April of last year, and they came up in November and we just got the assessment back. They do a very in-depth review of the jail and then they come back and tell us what needs to be changed or improved. They told us what we already knew that the jail was too small for the population, so now we just have to figure a way to fund it.”

Bell is seeking his second term as sheriff of Lake County.