The decision to expand Spokane County’s jail near downtown may be rescinded in the face of growing cost projections.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich on Wednesday asked county commissioners to rethink their 2008 vote to place a new jail next to the lockup that’s been in use since 1986. His reason: Estimates show building a multistory jail on the county campus would cost $265 million – $36 million more than a one-story version on vacant rural land.
Building a new jail off-site, however, has cost disadvantages as well. Sheriff’s officials estimate it would cost up to $1.5 million a year more to operate a separate lockup because some services would be duplicated and transportation costs between jails would increase.
Revisiting the new jail’s location wouldn’t necessarily rule out the downtown site, but it would put other locations back in the running. If commissioners agree to Knezovich’s request, which could happen as early as next month, the sheriff said a location could be picked and a property tax proposal prepared in time for an April election. “In order to make sure we’re doing the best project for the citizens, we have to go through this process,” Knezovich said.
County leaders have been planning a new jail for more than three years to replace Geiger Corrections Center, which is on Spokane International Airport land. Airport leaders decided in 2006 not to renew Geiger’s lease beyond 2013. No matter where the new lockup goes, the county plans to keep its jail built in 1986 for high-security inmates. Plans also call for construction of a community corrections center, which would provide job and parenting training and alcohol and drug counseling.
County Commissioner Bonnie Mager said given operational cost predictions and past changes in construction estimates, leaders should carefully consider abandoning their unanimous 2008 site selection vote. “It did feel somewhat political to me today, because the sheriff has always wanted an off-campus site,” she said. “I just want to make sure that it’s the right thing to do.”
Mager said a central location would be closer to courts, transportation and other services to help inmates leaving the justice system. “That has to remain our focus, is helping to rehabilitate, not just housing people,” she said.
Knezovich said an off-campus site won’t dampen the project’s aim of stopping the cycle of crime through drug counseling and similar services. He said he was an early proponent of a site outside downtown Spokane partly because it would offer more flexibility for future expansions at lower costs.
There was little opposition to placing the new lockup next door to the current jail when commissioners made their decision last year. Since then, however, opposition has emerged.
“There was quite a lot of resistance by the downtown business people to site the jail downtown,” Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson said. He said he supports a location review because the price is too high to win support from constituents he represents.
“They equate it with being a Cadillac in Chevrolet times,” Munson said.
The possible alternatives mentioned Wednesday include property on Medical Lake Road near Interstate 90, vacant land owned by the airport, a site near Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake, and property the county bought last year from Spokane Raceway Park in Airway Heights.
“We’ll open this back up wide open,” county Commissioner Mark Richard said. “The fact is that we would anticipate brand-new sites.”
Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson said other locations outside the West Plains should be considered. Leaders should “not allow politics to slant the outcome to take advantage of sparsely populated or low-income communities that will not be able to mount the same kind of resistance as more populated or influential segments of the county,” Pederson said.