County costs climb for Montwheeler

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE — Anthony Montwheeler’s cost to Malheur County is more than a quarter of a million dollars and questions remain about who will ultimately be stuck with the Nampa man’s medical and security costs.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said the Oregon Department of Human Services might pay at least a portion of the $264,502 bill.

“I’ve met with the jail commander and she is working with DHS and most likely they will pay part of the bill. But we had no idea what percentage – all or some of it – but it looks like they will pay some,” said Wolfe.

Montwheeler was at the epicenter of a police pursuit and deadly crash Jan. 9. He was subsequently indicted for kidnapping and stabbing to death his ex-wife and killing a Vale man.

Montwheeler has cost taxpayers for years. He was under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board for nearly 20 years. Montwheeler recently claimed he faked his mental illness to avoid prison, and state doctors agreed he wasn’t ill. His care over those years cost at least $1.5 million, according to state figures.

In Malheur County, Montwheeler has incurred $226,952 in medical costs plus about $36,000 in other expenses. Those include overtime for providing around-the-clock police security while he was hospitalized in Boise.

Exactly who will pay his bill, if DHS does not help, remains unclear, said Wolfe.

“If nobody helps out then, it becomes ours,” Wolfe said.

That will mean more challenges for county officials already grappling with budget woes. After a hard winter, county officials imposed a hiring freeze and restricted other expenses such as travel because the county had drained its $212,165 contingency fund.

Then came the Montwheeler costs.

“It was quite a hit as you can tell by those numbers,” he said. “It has created a hardship on Malheur County.”

The sheriff’s office spent a total of $34,100 on overtime pay for security at the hospital. Another $2,500 was expended for travel and meals for deputies while Montwheeler was hospitalized.

Wolfe is covering such costs by holding down expenses across his agency.

“We are just not spending any money that isn’t absolutely, positively necessary to perform our duties,” he said.

Wolfe said his office has few options to cover future costs for Montwheeler.

“We have to tighten up the belt because we do take it very seriously, spending taxpayers’ money,” Wolfe said.

In Salem, state officials couldn’t provide figures on costs to care for Montwheeler over 20 years. They provided three different figures for the daily cost of caring for Montwheeler at the Oregon State Hospital, where he has been committed from time to time.

The Oregon Health Authority said the best figure was about $1,000 a day -10 times the cost of housing an inmate at a state prison for a day.

The agency also said that state paid local providers to monitor Montwheeler in times when he was released into the community. Past figures weren’t available, but state officials said such services currently cost $1,451 a day, or $529,615 a year.

Have a news tip? Email: [email protected] or call Pat Caldwell at (541) 473-3377.