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County approves $17 million for jail
5/4/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
The La Plata County Commissioners are ready to put down serious money for a major jail expansion.
The county has been planning an 84-bed expansion at the current jail in Bodo Industrial Park. The county has done several other expansion and upgrade projects over the past several years, after voters rejected a $24 million bond issue for an all new jail in 2000.
On Monday the commissioners approved County Manager Michael Scannell and Finance Director Karla Distel’s recommendation to pay for the expansion with budget reserves instead of issuing bonds or certificates of participation.
They reported that at the end of 2006, the county had a fund balance above $30 million – a $9-plus million increase from the end of 2005. Based on the county’s budget reserve policy adopted in 2004 and on 2007 budget totals, they concluded the county should have a reserve of at least $13 million.
That leaves $17 million that can be spent on the jail expansion, they said.
That includes $4 million the county set aside for the jail in 2005 and again in 2006. In addition, the county recently received a $1 million Energy Impact Grant from the state.
Besides construction costs, Distel advised that the commissioners will need to start with the 2009 budget to include $750,000 for 10 more deputies and $300,000 to $500,000 for operation and maintenance of the new jail wing.
Construction is expected to start this summer and continue through late 2008.
The commissioners approved the recommendation from Distel and Scannell to:
• Pay for the expansion with funds on hand, a maximum $17 million total project cost without separate board approval.
• Continue negotiations with FCI Constructors as construction manager/ general contractor to develop the 84 bed expansion, with guaranteed maximum price of $13.3 million.
• Approve the provider and designer of the master security control system for the expansion, with estimated cost of $1.49 million.
• Approve hiring bond counsel to advise on capital projects financing through the end of 2010.
“I know this is long overdue,” Commissioner Joelle Riddle said. “I know this is a big project. The longer we put this off, the more costly it becomes money-wise and in safety for jail staff.”
Riddle continued, “We absolutely do need to spend $17 million for this, but I hope we as a community will do things to prevent the need for future expansions.” She suggested things like more affordable housing and child care.
Commissioner Kellie Hotter added, “It’s disheartening for all of us to look at $17 million for this, especially with all the other issues coming before us, but we know it’s necessary.”
Jail representative Bill Holmes said, “We truly thank you for recognizing the need.”
Commissioner Wally White commented, “We’ve had too many instances in the short time I’ve been in office that have created injuries for staff.”
In June 2006, jail consultant Dennis Liebert presented a jail study and expansion proposal. The new jail pod with 84 beds is phase 1 in that plan. It includes a new prisoner receiving and booking area.
The new pod will bring jail capacity to 250. That should serve county needs through 2015 or 2020, Liebert said. “This will be the worst of the worst housed in this new section. It will take two officers to move them,” he said. That’s one reason for needing 10 more deputies.
One of the current jail capacity problems is lack of space for different categories of inmates who can’t be put together safely. Liebert said the new pod would accommodate seven different categories of prisoners.
“The beauty of this whole design is any of these (cells) can be inter-changed and used as something else as needed,” he said. Phase 1 also includes a new, more secure booking area, medical offices, exam room, and an indoor/ outdoor recreation area.
From the outside it will look like a two story building, Liebert said. It will have an upper level of cells in a mezzanine-like design. The center day-room area on the ground floor will be open to the roof.
Liebert’s phase 2 expansion would add another jail pod with 128 beds and would cost an estimated $10.1 million. It would be lower security dorm beds, which are cheaper than individual cells. Thirteen new employees would be needed there.
An eventual phase 3 would tear down the existing jail (not the recent additions) and replace it with another pod. It would include new administrative offices for the department.
The jail is not the only high dollar project in the works. One reason for recommending paying for the jail with fund balances is to preserve county debt capacity for other projects.
County staff will be bringing recommendations to the commissioners soon on construction of a new Department of Human Services building with estimated cost of $9.5 million.
Scannell told the Times this week that the county has “engaged an architect for design services (on that). There’s no contract until we get a guaranteed maximum price.”
Distel and Scannell said that both the jail and human services building are needed now, and neither should be left until the county sets aside all the money needed for pay-as-you-go.
The county’s unreserved fund balance is large enough to pay for one and finance the other, they said. They have recommended financing the human services building with certificates of participation, which do not require voter approval.
The county also has a $1 million Energy Impact Grant for the human services building. The new building will open up about 11,000 square feet for other uses in the courthouse. The county also plans to move veterans’ services there from the Durango Senior Center.
Distel and Scannell noted a fairgrounds/ events center task force is looking at options for a new facility, another project that promises to be expensive.