A new jail may be in the county’s future, but staffing at the existing one continues to be reduced.
Spokane County commissioners are planning on announcing their preferred site for a proposed new corrections facility next Tuesday. While they met Wednesday and Thursday to deliberate on the final spot – either at the courthouse campus or one of two West Plains locations – Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich last week announced the layoff of 10 more positions at Geiger Corrections Center and Spokane County Jail. That number is on top of the 57 other detention services employees who were cut on May 18.
The sheriff has said there is a $1 million shortfall in the 2010 budget. According to Capt. John McGrath, the layoffs are necessary in order to close that gap.
“This is a matter of right-sizing our staffing given the reduced number of inmates we are seeing this year,” McGrath said. “We continue to try to run the most efficient facilities for the taxpayer.
The 10 employees – eight at Geiger and two at the downtown jail – were notified May 28 that their jobs would end July 16.
“This is an incredibly hard thing to have to do, and it isn’t pretty,” McGrath stated in a memo to Knezovich on May 28. “It’s as low as we can get and still operate the two sites safely.”
He added that the budget would be reviewed against jail populations monthly to see if other cuts are necessary.
Last week, Knezovich told the commissioners that “there will be an impact” by having to come up with another $20,000 out of his budget in order to fund 2.5-percent cost-of-living adjustments for his nonunion employees. The commissioners, who agreed to the COLAs after it was learned that the cuts would impact workers’ retirement plans, are leaving it up to county department heads to figure out how to fund the raises out of their own budgets.
“We all know how tight the budgets are. But even $20,000 is $20,000 we didn’t budget for,” Knezovich told the commissioners.
The staff reductions have called into question whether or not the jail is actually needed. But according to David Bennett, a Utah-based consultant hired by Spokane County to help overhaul the corrections system, it means that early-case resolution efforts are starting to work. The average daily jail population has been about 755 from January to April this year. The number was 1,126 at this same time in 2008. And jail stays have also been getting shorter, Bennett has said.
“It’s part of the program base,” Knezovich said at a public hearing May 12.
However, the existing jail is aging and maintenance costs have continued to rise, Knezovich said. He recently informed commissioners that two elevators were not working for a short period of time, making for unsafe conditions for staff and inmates.
A new “vertical” tower at the downtown site will cost about $265 million for construction and related structures. Due to its proximity to the courts and other services, it’s expected to be the best site for a new jail, according to a pair of analyses conducted over the past several months.
However, it will be less expensive to build a “horizontal” campus-style jail, about $228 million, at locations in Airway Heights or the Medical Lake/freeway interchange. But transportation and staffing costs would be higher each year.
A ballot question is expected to go before Spokane County voters in April 2011.