August 16, 2005 in Idaho

$40 million jail expansion considered

By The Spokesman-Review

at a glance

Crowded jail

The Kootenai County jail has 325 beds for inmates, but last weekend it held 368 inmates. An ad hoc expansion committee has determined the county will need 800 beds by 2020. Inadequate capacity would eventually force Kootenai County to send inmates to other counties at a significant cost.

Kootenai County is considering a $40 million expansion of its jail to hold an ever-growing inmate population.

The expansion would be funded with revenue raised through continuation of a local-option half-cent sales tax, if approved by Kootenai County voters in November.

“That’s the key to this whole scenario,” said county Commissioner Katie Brodie. “In order for us to keep the funding in place, there can’t be a break in that collection.”

County commissioners received a report Monday from the architectural firm KMB Justice Facilities Group, which developed its findings with input from the county’s ad hoc jail expansion committee. The county is paying the consultant $76,700 for its work.

The consultant found that the sheriff’s facilities overall are “severely inadequate” to keep pace with county growth. The county jail has 325 beds for inmates, but last weekend, the jail housed 368 inmates, according to jail Capt. Travis Chaney.

“We’re over our housing capacity as we speak,” Chaney said Monday afternoon. When the county has too many inmates, the extras typically “go on the floor,” he said.

The overcrowding causes discipline and security problems as tensions in the housing blocks rise, Chaney said.

The committee found that the county will need about 800 jail beds by 2020. The initial plan, however, is to rebuild the jail’s core facilities – kitchen and laundry, for instance – to handle a population of 1,000.

The initial phase also would expand the housing units to contain 632 beds, with the ability to add beds in new housing units as the need arises, according to the report.

Without a larger jail, the county will have to ship inmates to other county jails soon and pay those counties to hold them, a situation that ultimately would cost Kootenai County more money, county officials have said.

In 2000, voters approved a half-cent sales-tax increase to pay for a $12 million jail expansion.

The county expects to have that construction paid off through the sales-tax revenue by the end of this year, said the county’s finance director, David McDowell. That’s ahead of schedule, he said.

“Collections have exceeded our expectations,” McDowell said. “We’re seeing growth impact the amount of dollars spent.”

Although the new jail proposal is more costly than originally anticipated by county commissioners, McDowell said the $40 million price tag could be paid off in 10 years through the half-cent sales tax.

The maximum time a local-option sales tax can be in effect is 10 years.

Last fall, Kootenai County voters overwhelmingly expressed support for the local-option sales tax as a mechanism to pay for county needs such as jails. And in 2003, nearly 70 percent of voters approved reinstatement of the half-cent tax to pay off the jail.

One reason many voters support the additional sales tax is that 50 percent of all revenues raised from that tax go for property tax relief. Half the revenue from the additional sales tax acts as a credit toward the property tax portion of the county’s budget, lowering the taxes levied against the county’s property owners.

Commissioners have yet to act on the recommendations of the jail consultant’s report, which include:

•Enlarge the booking and intake facilities;

•Increase the number of medical beds to 40;

•Add more parking and use property east of the jail that now is managed by the County Fair Board;

•Remodel the work-release center to also house female work-release inmates and possibly minimum-security female inmates.

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