County jail mess gets messier
Thurston County’s new jail is currently under construction in Tumwater at a cost of between $40 million and $60 million. The cost isn’t known yet as change orders and new plans continue to make estimation difficult.
But the jail, termed Accountability and Restitution Center, is under construction and is set to open sometime in 2010.
Open, perhaps, but will it be used? That’s the $110 million dollar question. When the new jail opens in two years, will there be anyone around to run and operate the new facility? Probably not.
Thurston County is facing a major cutback in services, cutbacks that include as many as four dozen employees in the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. Of that number, perhaps as many as a dozen or more will be from jail staff.
There’s money for jail construction. The Washington State Legislature and the voters of Thurston County have seen to that. In 1995, local voters approved an increase in the sales tax of one-tenth of one percent to fund jail construction projects. But, there is no money for staffing or operating the jail.
We only have to cast our eyes to Pierce County to see the problem. In May 2000, voters in Pierce County approved a similar sales tax increase. Some $37 million dollars was spent to add a 1008 bed facility to the 727 bed jail. That was completed in October 2002.
But Pierce County didn’t have staff to operate the new jail, and it sat, empty and unused with Pierce County unable to hire the 15-20 jailers it needed, at a cost of $1.5 million each year, to open the jail.
Thurston County officials were aware that staffing the new jail would be difficult, but they didn’t expect the sudden drop-off of revenue, caused by the economic slowdown.
Now, they too, will be stuck with a new jail and unable to open and operate it. After the 2009 county budget is approved, they’ll be lucky if they have enough staff left to cover current jail operations.