County commission declares emergency, prepares for April bond
Spokane County commissioners accepted no public testimony but aired their own views on a new jail for an hour and a half Tuesday.
They then voted 2-1 to confirm a site near the Medical Lake interchange of Interstate 90 and to declare an emergency so land-use changes can be made in time for an April bond measure.
Commissioner Bonnie Mager dissented on both decisions.
A handful of citizens who apparently shared Mager’s view did their best to make their point obliquely during the public forum portion of the commissioners’ evening session.
The commissioners’ meeting rules limit the forum to topics that aren’t on the agenda for a hearing. The jail issues were handled as final resolutions, subject to discussion only by commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Mielke pointed out that officials conducted numerous meetings and hearings at which public testimony was accepted. Chairman Mark Richard chided audience members several times for trying to sneak in their comments.
Michael Poulin, part of an ad hoc group called the No New Jail Project, reminded Richard and Mielke of their purchase of the Spokane County Raceway “when we ran over everything and everybody … by flouting environmental regulations.”
Mager opposed the raceway purchase.
She moved to postpone the declaration of emergency and schedule a public hearing, but got no second.
Consultant Jim Kolva assured Mager that the declaration merely eliminated the need to wait until the end of next year to amend the county comprehensive plan. All environmental and land-use procedures would still be followed, he said.
Even so, Mager said, “This really doesn’t pass the straight-face test, and no doubt it will be challenged.”
“That’s to be expected,” Richard said.
Mager argued that a replacement for the Geiger Corrections Center should be housed in a tower on the county courthouse campus to reduce transportation and operating costs. She noted that two consulting studies recommended the campus site.
Mielke and Richard countered that it would take 40 years to realize any savings in operating costs, but a compound of $24 million, 256-bed “pods” would save $54 million in construction costs.
While Mager wanted to spend a year testing jail-alternative programs to make sure the new lockup is the right size, Mielke complained of “paralysis by analysis.”
Mager cited falling crime rates across the country and the county’s need to lay off 67 corrections deputies this summer because of a shrinking inmate population.
But Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the county’s main jail is still overcrowded and the Geiger Corrections Center – a converted World War II barracks – is unsafe.
Knezovich said he thinks a scaled-down proposal for 1,608 beds in the Geiger replacement is the right size to meet the county’s needs through 2035.