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Jail need focus of state of county

Sat., March 11, 2006

The people have heard the states of the union, state and city.

On Friday, it was Spokane County’s chance to review the year and outline goals.

“It has been a great year. But our future success is not about focusing on the past,” Spokane County Commission Chairman Todd Mielke said in the annual state of the county address. “Our region is confronted with a number of significant challenges.”

One of those is the need for a new jail or at least an addition to the county’s current lockup, he said.

“It’s stretched to the seams to the point where we have to do something,” Mielke said.

County leaders are studying what to do with their 25-year-old jail, which sheriff’s officials say is often booked beyond its capacity. Mielke said the design of the building causes high operating expenses and a new building might be the best option.

Later, in response to an audience question, Mielke said commissioners also will consider building an outdoor tent jail during warmer months to house a backlog of offenders.

“All of us on the Board of County Commissioners would like to look at tents,” Mielke said. “We’re looking at all our options.”

Another significant and costly challenge to the county is the construction of a sewage treatment plant on Spokane River, Mielke said.

The county plans to spend millions on the project, which is on hold as the state considers new rules about phosphorus discharged into the river. Building, designing and meeting environmental requirements will take a few years, and officials hope to move quickly so a new treatment center can be operating before 2011 when the county is expected to run out of sewage capacity at a plant run by the city of Spokane.

“We will step forward and pursue the most advanced technology anywhere,” Mielke said.

Even so, he added, the county will need the help of citizens to meet environmental regulations and keep the river clean. Mielke, who was active in persuading the state Legislature to ban phosphates in dishwasher detergent, asked the audience to choose environmentally friendly products to reduce river pollution.

Mielke briefly discussed the county’s land development practices, which have come under fire by some who say county leaders have been too lenient with builders. The county will approve new construction as long as developers follow the law, he said.

“We are counted on to do what the rules tell us,” Mielke said. “No more, no less.”

Mielke’s speech, made to a Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce gathering at CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point Park, outlined progress made by the county in several areas, including road paving projects, remodeling of the fairgrounds, opening a new county pool and adding 525 acres dedicated to open space.

He stressed that the county will focus on long-term planning.

“We should not arrive at our destination by default,” Mielke said. “Instead, we should define our destination and be progressive in our actions.”


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