Thurston County will spend some of the leftover bond money used to construct its vacant $45 million satellite jail to hire a consultant to find a way to get inmates housed there.
The county commission, which met with Sheriff’s Office officials Thursday morning, asked county staffers to find a consultant to provide a comprehensive look at jail operations with the goal of moving inmates into the Accountability and Restitution Center. Calls for a consultant will go out next week, said Robin Campbell, county fiscal manager.
About $2.7 million remains from a 2009 bond issue because ARC construction was under budget. Bond money also could be used for upgrades. Any remaining funds would go toward furniture, fixtures and equipment. The money is tied to capital projects and can’t be used to hire corrections deputies.
The ARC, a 100,000-square-foot building in the Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater, was designed to be a satellite jail and may need expensive additions to accommodate diverse jail classifications to become a standalone facility.
Since taking office, Sheriff John Snaza has focused on getting the ARC occupied.
Snaza said he doesn’t have the money to run two jails, and though the original purpose of the ARC was to complement the current jail, he’s now looking at the ARC as a standalone jail. Keeping both facilities open would cost $4.3 million annually and require 40 additional people, including 24 corrections deputies, according to county estimates.
County corrections chief Todd Thoma said he supports hiring a consultant.
“I’m open to anybody coming in to take a look at what we’ve been doing,” he said.
He said that recent consultants that have come in to make recommendations have proved worthwhile. He noted recommendations that came from surveys helped drop the jail population.
“We want a fresh set of eyes on this,” Thoma said.
What remains unknown is how much a consultant will cost. According to the draft plan, the consultant will be asked to tackle six topics, including finding a way to use the ARC as a standalone jail or use both facilities, calculating inmate population-growth projections, and determining operational costs and classification plans. It also would identify funding sources for future upgrades.
During the meeting, commissioner Sandra Romero said the study should focus on getting inmates into the ARC.
“I just want the focus to be to get out of the jail we have and get into the new facility,” she said.
The county unsuccessfully searched for consultants last year to determine staffing options and figured it would spend $30,000, but budgeted $50,000, according to the ARC project manager.
Campbell said she couldn’t find a comparable consultant study that was as broad as what is being proposed, but said the cost likely would range between $50,000 and $200,000. To determine cost before interviewing consultants, the county will ask for an estimated price range in the request. A draft timeline has consultant work beginning in May and wrapped up by October, providing time for the county to consider upgrades that might need to be included in the 2012 budget.
County manager Don Krupp warned that the price tag likely will be higher than previous consultant estimates, saying planning and architectural work will drive up the cost.
After the meeting, commission chairwoman Karen Valenzuela said the money the county spends now could lead to savings down the road.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/outsideoly