Moab police are setting more petty offenders free because of an overcrowded jail and the expense of transporting inmates to a neighboring county jail in Monticello.

Moab City Police Chief Alan West said violations of city ordinances such as public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and simple assaults have been relegated to the "less serious" category and offenders are not being booked."We've been turning a lot of stray cats loose. A lot of individuals who don't threaten themselves or others, we've been turning loose," West told the City Council recently at a special workshop with county officials.

The meeting with Grand County commissioners and Sheriff Jim Nyland was to discuss a proposal that the city share more of the financial burden of transporting and housing city inmates at the San Juan County jail.

Nyland set an eight-inmate limit at the Grand County Jail last fall after state officials said the facilities did not meet minimum life-safety code requirements for housing and detention of prisoners.

The sheriff recommended shutting down the facility last October. Instead, the county funded some basic improvements, approved a housing reduction from 16 to eight inmates, and contracted with San Juan County to hold the overflow.

Those actions became necessary after voters in a special election last October narrowly defeated a $4.5 million bond issue to renovate and expand of the 43-year-old county building on Center Street. The proposal included $2.4 million to upgrade the jail.

Commissioners and Nyland are working on a new proposal they hope voters will buy later this spring. Meanwhile, the police chief and sheriff have maintained a loose agreement to release most misdemeanor offenders and transport more serious violators to Monticello.

"We're doing the greatest people shuffle in the world to keep prisoners in there," Nyland said.

West said the state has a "misdemeanor cite and release" program that condones releasing petty offenders rather than jailing them. In effect, West said, the citation serves as an information and promise to appear in court.

"Previously, two to three months ago, we booked everybody on most charges . . . but we're just trying to alleviate our load on the jail."

Offenders arrested on violations of state laws are still booked, he said.

Nyland said city arrests account for 65 percent of jail bookings, and the city should help out more with costs.