County buys land for a new jail
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners unanimously authorized $6.56 million from the county’s general fund today to purchase more than 47 acres of property near the sheriff’s office for the next jail.
“I think we got a really good purchase,” County Administrator Danny Jordan said. “It’s zoned properly, there’s not residential, they’re not going to have competing interests, we should have very little push back on it.”
Commissioner Rick Dyer called it a “reasonable, responsible next step” in the plan to replace Jackson County’s perpetually overcrowded 300-bed jail.
The property is off major corridors and will be near a bypass currently under construction, meaning it will have five points of access well before construction could begin.
The county hopes to put a proposed taxing district to fund the jail on the November 2019 ballot, but Jordan said that the site will be important to the county regardless of the voters’ decision.
Having the land ready means the county can pursue other options if voters don’t approve a new jail now, though construction costs increase roughly 5 percent per year, Jordan said.
“If they don’t approve it now, and they don’t approve it in 10 years, if they don’t approve it in 20 years, we can still work to afford to build a new jail without asking taxpayers,” Jordan said, adding that construction costs could be double in two decades. “I don’t think we give up if taxpayers say yes or no.”
More details on costs and an architect’s rendering are expected the first week of December. Jordan emphasized his earlier estimate that the jail would cost taxpayers $100 million was the minimum.
“I want to reiterate I said ‘at least’ $100 million,” Jordan told commissioners.
The county has entered into an $82,478 contract with the DLR Group of Portland to design the next jail and come up with “hard costs” such as construction and materials needed to build the jail and to accommodate proposed features such as expanded medical, mental health and addiction treatment space.
Hard costs surrounding a 700-bed jail are around $104 million and for a 1,000-bed jail they’re $149 million, Jordan told commissioners.
The 1981-built jail features a linear design that requires staff to monitor inmates through hallways rather than a more modern, podular design that would allow jail staff to keep an eye on inmates from a central location.
New plan for voters
Jordan proposed a new plan to reduce costs to taxpayers from the previously proposed $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed value — a figure overwhelmingly opposed by survey respondents earlier this year.
The current jail costs about $14 million a year to operate, Jordan said. The architects will help staff determine more definitive operation costs for the new jail, though Jordan described the new design as “triple the capacity at double the operation cost.”
Jordan proposed waiting until 2020 to impose a new bond, once the 14-cent library bond is paid off. Jordan said with a new tax rate of 74 cents, taxpayers would see a net increase of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
“My concept is to take the first five years of that and get $70 million of the $120 million to pay towards the debt,” Jordan said.
There’s about $40 million in the general fund that could be devoted to building the new jail, but Jordan said the county would continue to build its reserves in the next five to seven years.
“For example, last year I think we built our general fund reserve like $18 million,” Jordan said.
If construction goes past five years, Jordan said what’s been completed could be used as a supplemental facility.
“We’ll be able to increase some capacity, until we can buy this cost down more,” Jordan said.
The county’s new proposal for funding a jail comes three days before ballots go out for the Nov. 6 election, in which Sheriff Nate Sickler is running to retain his position.
A new jail “has been needed for years,” Sickler said. “... Trying to create the awareness and education and the reasons for it and showing why has been a big push for me.”
His opponent, William Froehlich, has proposed using temporary modules to create more jail space as a short-term solution. Campaign manager Ryan Mallory said that he and Froehlich support a new jail, and spending more than $6.5 million from the reserve fund “doesn’t really change much.”
“We do need a jail, but that could be seven years or more,” Mallory said.
Jordan cited costs of a host of recent jail projects around the region to commissioners Rick Dyer, Colleen Roberts and Bob Strosser.
In Canyon County, Idaho, which has consulted with DLR Group, a proposed 1,044-bed facility is estimated at $144 million in hard costs alone.
“It was not unreasonable to ask $100 million for 1,000 jail beds,” Jordan said.
It’s possible the new jail could need less labor to prepare its foundation, but square footage is another variable — especially if the county were to incorporate space for drug and mental health resources. Features such as the commercial kitchen must be sized for the jail’s full capacity because remodels and expansions aren’t feasible with a building that uses reinforced concrete.
“We’re going to try everything we can to keep the cost down,” Jordan said, adding, “This is expensive stuff.”
Building a new jail is a five- to seven-year process that could begin within six months after purchase of the land is complete, Jordan said.
“Six months is not a lot of grace period,” Jordan said.
County officials will meet with the architectural firm at least twice over the next two months to aid with developing the initial plans and cost projections. The sheriff and other county officials will meet with cities within the county to get their consent to participate in the taxing district.
Assuming buy-in from the cities, the county would hold multiple public hearings throughout summer 2019, with the vote coming that November.
Once the new jail is completed, the old jail likely would be torn down because the concrete structure is cost-prohibitive to repurpose, Jordan said.
The site, however, would make an ideal location to expand the number of Jackson County Justice Building courtrooms, according to Jordan. Another idea being proposed is a courtroom at the jail, according to Sickler.