TUMWATER - Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza wants to see the new $45 million Accountability and Restitution Center become a standalone jail and may hire a consultant to find out what it would take to make that happen.
Snaza said he hopes to get someone in the next few months to provide a fresh look at the county’s jail operations and how the ARC fits into the equation.
“We need something because we’re at an impasse right now,” Snaza said.
He also said he would like to see the ARC house inmates as early as the end of this year.
The ARC, a 100,000-square-foot building in the Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater, was designed to be a satellite jail. It sits empty because of a lack of funds and a lower jail population.
Because of those factors, the Thurston County commission shifted its focus to the short-term, trying to find interim uses until the ARC could be adequately staffed.
In December, the commission asked staff to look into several options, including moving the Sheriff’s Office patrol division into the ARC, as well as checking the cost of permits for retrofitting to accommodate the options/work release program.
Snaza is not in favor of either. He said he wants to keep the ARC prepared for the day it becomes a jail.
Moving the patrol division to the ARC would be temporary and put the county in a bind once the jail was ready to house inmates, he said. Snaza is also against moving the options/work release program to the ARC, saying that it would divide resources, increase response times and could be a safety issue.
The commission agrees with Snaza about finding a solution as soon as possible, Commission Chair Karen Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela said she supports the idea of a consultant, but added it will be a cost that comes from the Sheriff’s Office budget. If he needed additional funding, Snaza would need to come before the commission with a proposal, Valenzuela said.
And while the commissioners and Snaza may agree that the ARC needs to open sooner rather than later, money will continue to dictate decisions.
Staffing the ARC as a satellite jail remains a big hurdle for the county.
County Manager Don Krupp says staffing assumptions may have to change if the county wants to use the ARC as a satellite jail anytime soon. Keeping both the current jail and the ARC open would cost $4.3 million annually and require 40 additional people, including 24 corrections deputies, according to county estimates.
“There’s no way I could afford to do that,” Snaza said.
The county will spend about $430,000 this year for maintenance, $160,000 of which goes into reserve.
Snaza said he would prefer a transition or phased plan that would keep the current jail open on a limited basis as a holding facility for court proceedings.
If a consultant comes back saying that retrofits are needed or an addition to the ARC is required, Snaza says at least the county would have a path toward getting the institution opened.
“Let’s get something going so that we can figure out what we gotta do,” he said.