Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Clatsop County Board Of Commissioners Vote To Take Jail Bond Measure To Voters!

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012


Clatsop County voters will be asked in May to fund an expansion of the county jail facility.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to place a $14 million bond measure on the May 15 primary election ballot.

The bond would fund the expansion and remodeling of the current jail facility in downtown Astoria to increase capacity from 60 to 164 beds, plus pay for the renovation of the county’s Parole and Probation office in Warrenton to accommodate the Sheriff’s Office criminal division staff, who are currently housed in the jail building.

The tax rate on the 20-year bond would be 16.5 cents per $1,000 assessed value, or $33 a year on a property with a $200,000 assessed value.

Enlarging the jail is aimed at reducing the large number of criminal offenders released before the end of their sentences due to lack of space, as well as to provide a sanctions option for parole and probation violators and people wanted on warrants. The current lack of space and layout also limits the jail staff’s ability to separate inmates by criminal classification and to isolate inmates with contagious diseases or behavioral issues.

The county jail opened in 1980 with 29 beds. Capacity was later expanded to 64 by double-bunking and converting other space into cells, but remained inadequate to handle the number of suspects waiting trial and sentenced offenders. In 2005 the maximum occupancy was capped at 60, due to safety concerns related to overcrowding.

The expansion project would extend both levels of the facility eastward and reorganize the existing space to add more jail beds as well as expand medical facilities, intake and booking quarters, staff offices and kitchen and laundry facilities, which are all currently undersized. The project would add isolation units for inmates with illness and behavioral problems, as well as space for inmates participating in substance abuse treatment and other programs.

The May ballot measure is the county’s first attempt in almost 10 years to seek voter approval for a solution to the jail overcrowding problem. In November 2002 county voters rejected a $15.7 million bond measure for construction of an all-new jail facility. At the time of the 2002 effort, county officials had not settled on a design or location for the proposed new jail.

County staff and commissioners continued to investigate proposals for expanding or replacing the county jail. In 2006 the Sheriff’s Office contracted with DLR Group design consultants to draft preliminary plans for installing dormitory-style cells in the bottom floor of the facility. That plan did not prove workable, but continued discussions between the Sheriff’s Office and DLR eventually turned toward the current proposal. In November 2011 the board of commissioners approved a contract with DLR to develop detailed schematics and cost estimates for the new expansion plan.

The resulting plans developed by DLR envision a phased project beginning with the renovation of the Parole and Probation office to create offices for the 26 personnel in the Sheriff’s Office criminal division. The second phase would add the extensions to both levels of the jail building, and remodel the lower level for jail staff, booking, and other services, as well as add a new entryway. Finally, the existing jail space would be remodeled. Work would be planned so that the jail would remain in operation and not require the transfer or release of any inmates.

Under the proposed project timeline, the facility would be completed by the end of 2014.

Operating expenses for the expanded jail are estimated to increase by $1,266,300 a year, as a result of expanding the number of staff from 25.5 FTE (fulltime equivalent) to 34, as well as increased supply and maintenance costs. Those increases would be offset by an estimated $391,200 in savings in various areas, including ending the rental of 18 jail beds in Tillamook County, for a net increase in annual operating costs of $875,100.

County officials say those increased costs can be covered by the county’s annual revenue from the Clatsop State Forest. Currently, the county dedicates more than $1 million in timber revenue each year to paying off a bond covering its Public Employee Retirement System unfunded liability and a $4 million loan for the 2007 remodel of the county courthouse. Both the bond and loan will be paid off by 2014.

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