July 10, 2008 Spokesman-Review (WA)
New Jail Could Cost $245 Million
Complex Could Require Two New Taxes; Sheriff Backs Delay
By Jonathan Brunt, Staff writer
Original article: www.spokesmanreview.com/breaking/story.asp?ID=15630
Spokane County's proposed new jail complex will cost $245 million and an extra $8 million a year to operate, potentially requiring two new taxes to foot those bills, according to project estimates.
A report from Integrus Architecture detailing those costs was given to county leaders earlier this month. Officials discussed the new projections at a meeting Wednesday morning and questioned if a sales tax would be needed to pay the operational costs on top of a property tax increase.
"It will do us no good to build a facility we can't afford to operate," said County Commissioner Todd Mielke.
County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said given the new numbers, he hopes that a vote for a new jail system is delayed. Commissioners have until Aug. 12 to decide if the jail will go on the November ballot.
"I do not think that I have enough time between now and November to educate the public on what these costs are, why these costs are the way they are and the philosophies behind the costs," Knezovich said.
Initially, county officials estimated it would cost about $100 million to build the new complex.
Just last month, the Kootenai County Commission learned the jail they hope to build will cost $147 million. At Wednesday's meeting, Knezovich questioned if officials should explore a partnership with Kootenai County. He and others in the room, however, agreed that differences in state law and other factors would make a single jail campus for Spokane and Kootenai counties difficult.
Spokane County officials had wanted to ask voters for a new property tax in November in hopes that the expansion could be ready by 2013, when the lease expires on the county's low-security lockup, Geiger Corrections Center. For about three years, jail, court and other officials have been meeting in hopes of overhauling the county's justice system.
Plans call for the current jail to be remodeled and maintained for high-security inmates. Inmates deemed less dangerous would be housed in a new tower adjacent to the current jail. It would replace Geiger, a former World War II-era Army barracks on Spokane International Airport property.
The project also would create a "community corrections center," emphasizing job and parenting training and alcohol and drug counseling. Officials say the center is the key to help reduce recidivism.
"What people need to know is we're not just building a new jail, but we're building a new criminal justice system," said County Commissioner Bonnie Mager. "We're not just looking to warehouse people."
Officials said they are hesitant to put a sales tax on the ballot on top of a property tax. County CEO Marshall Farnell said to earn enough to make up for the operational shortfall, the county would need a two-tenths of 1 percent tax 2 cents on a $10 purchase. That's twice as much as was authorized by voters in May for new emergency communications equipment - an increase that voters turned down the first time it was on the ballot."Times are hard and I just don't think that the voters are going to want to go there," Mager said. "We're going to be beating the bushes looking for other income."
Mager discusses the option of raising taxes to fund the project
Knezovich said he will explore different designs and other options that could trim costs.
Commissioner Mark Richard said he's hopeful the county could get state or federal funding to defray the operational costs of the jail.
He added he's open to hearing scaled-back options for the project, but he's hesitant to approve a "piecemeal approach."
"It's not the long-term solution that we're after," Richard said.
Richard said the county shouldn't delay a jail vote longer than a year, given current overcrowding and the likelihood that airport officials will remain reluctant to renew Geiger's lease past 2013.
"I don't see how we could wait more than a year, and even that is pushing it," Richard said.
Jonathan Brunt can be reached at email@example.com or (509) 459-5442.