County to hire consultant to study satellite jail options

UNUSED: Leftover construction funds to pay for analysis

May 24, 2011 


    The Accountability and Restitution Center is a 100,000-square-foot corrections facility in the Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater.

    It is substantially complete but the county lacks money and inmates to open it as intended. Even without occupants, the county will spend $430,000 in 2011 to keep the building’s mechanical and electrical systems running; about $160,000 of that is put into reserve for repairs.

    The ARC was designed to complement the county’s current jail at the county courthouse, which is aging and has suffered from overcrowding in years past, but Sheriff John Snaza says he doesn’t have the money to keep both open. That scenario would cost $4.3 million annually and require 40 additional people, including 24 corrections deputies.

County officials want to know what it will take to fill the county’s new but empty $45 million satellite jail.

The Thurston County Commission is expected to award a $160,800 contract to MGT of America Inc. today for a comprehensive study of the Accountability and Restitution Center. It will include determining options for the facility and current jail, inmate growth projections and staffing plans, operational costs and, if renovations or upgrades are needed, where the funding will come from.

A final report is expected in October, allowing the county time to consider any proposals during budget deliberations, said Robin Campbell, county budget and fiscal manager.

“These folks are national experts on corrections facilities, and we think that they are going to be able to use that expertise to give us some ideas that we haven’t considered yet,” she said, adding that the county has completed staffing plans and looked into interim uses of the ARC.

Money for the study comes from leftover bond funds available because ARC construction costs came in under budget.

Consulting work includes a new staffing model and examining if there’s a way the county can move its entire jail population into the satellite – an idea that has the support of Sheriff John Snaza, who has been a proponent of hiring outside experts.

Since becoming sheriff, Snaza has made it clear he wants to use the ARC as a standalone jail, though it was designed to supplement the current jail. He says the collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners has created a unified path to finding a use for the facility.

“We really do need to figure out some options for this facility,” Snaza said, adding that an operational ARC could attract attention from other jurisdictions looking for beds.

He hopes the study will lay the groundwork for opening the jail by next year.

“It’s something that I’m really counting on as going to get us into the facility by the end of 2012 at the latest,” he said.

Commission Chairwoman Karen Valenzuela said the board wants a range of ideas and funding options that fit within the county’s existing resources. Money has been a major issue in preventing the satellite jail from opening. A voter-approved sales tax increase has not produced enough revenue to cover capital and operating costs.

Original plans included additional construction before a more diverse jail population could move into the facility, but funding dried up, and the reality may be that the county must work with what it has, Valenzuela said. She added that the problem now is finding the money for adequate staffing, not necessarily major upgrades to the facility.

But what if the consultant comes back and recommends a bond issue to make the necessary upgrades?

Valenzuela said she doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Although, it has to be said, never say never,” she said.

Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476

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