July 23, 2008 in City

Officials push vote on jail to 2009

Spokane County facility costlier than expected
By The Spokesman-Review


Listen to commissioners discuss their decision.

Voters must wait until next year to have their say on a new jail complex that could cost taxpayers $245 million.

Spokane County commissioners Tuesday decided unanimously to delay a vote on new taxes to pay for the complex until next year.

“It just seems like we’ve got more homework to do,” Commissioner Mark Richard said.

The jail proposal was complicated earlier this month when cost estimates came back higher than expected. Integrus Architecture estimated the complex would cost $245 million, significantly more than the county’s initial $100 million figure. More worrisome to commissioners was data showing the complex would cost $8 million a year extra to operate.

County jail, law enforcement and courts leaders worked for more than three years on the proposal to replace Geiger Corrections Center and remodel the county jail. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was aiming to put the jail proposal on the November ballot so the expanded facility would be ready in 2012.

He said Tuesday that the delay could push the opening of the jail until 2013, when the Geiger lease expires, but that there still would be enough time to have the complex built.

Knezovich supported delaying a vote, but he urged commissioners to vote on a statement that leaders intend to ask the public to approve the taxes next year – an action the commissioners took.

“We still have questions that aren’t answered. I don’t think that the public appreciates when you can’t answer questions,” Knezovich said. “I don’t look at this as any kind of setback when you consider what we’ve accomplished the past 18 months.”

Officials say the biggest obstacle is the estimate showing the new facility would require 80 additional employees to operate beyond those now working at the jail and Geiger. They say a sales tax might be needed to help pay wages on top of a property tax to pay for construction. Commissioners said Tuesday they’ll work in the next few months to find cost savings or other revenue so a sales tax wouldn’t be necessary.

“Until we know how were going to pay to operate, the last thing we want to do is build a facility that we can’t afford to run,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said.

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 jail. It would replace Geiger, a former World War II-era Army barracks on Spokane International Airport property.

The plan emphasizes rehabilitation in an effort to prevent recidivism and would include construction of a “community corrections center” that would provide job and parenting training and alcohol and drug counseling.

Commissioner Bonnie Mager proposed that the county initiate more programs to reduce recidivism soon so the public will better understand the jail proposal.

“I don’t think we’ve clearly thought through how we’re going to present that to the public,” Mager said.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.

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