Private jail idea moves forward

Commissioners discuss long-term plans for county facilities

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The Kootenai County commissioners are still pursuing the option of a new, privately funded jail, but are reconsidering partnering with the city of Coeur d'Alene on a new downtown parking garage.

These were among several long-term plans the commissioners discussed on Thursday at a strategic planning meeting in the officials' boardroom.

Commissioner Dan Green said he just gave Rocky Mountain Corrections the green light to conduct a feasibility study on funding a new county jail with private investments.

He requested the firm provide more details on the pitch it gave this June, which he thought was vague in key areas.

"There was previously no location, they talked about renting space to other entities ... Let's firm some of that up," Green said, adding that his letter to RMC specified a non-binding agreement. "I think the presentation before had a lot of variables and unanswered questions. It's difficult to come to any decision without more clarity and specifics."

Commissioner Jai Nelson said she would even like to see letters of interest from other jurisdictions about renting empty beds in the potential facility.

The proposal is still worth looking at, Green said, as the county continues to address jail overcrowding by housing excess inmates at other facilities.

"If (the proposed facility) does what they said it can do, cut our costs and increase our space, it's something to get deeper into," he said.

The elected officials also discussed funding options for a new justice facility and parking garage for the county's downtown campus.

The commissioners' newly adopted facilities master plan - proposing four multi-million options for structural improvements - recommends building a new justice center on Garden Avenue, and a new parking garage on Northwest Boulevard, to accommodate demand.

If the county can help fund the two structures out-of-pocket with the county fund balance, Green said, taxpayers won't be asked to provide as much in a bond.

"The entire project is a lot of money," Green said, adding that he is looking into what is available in the fund balance. "If we have some (funds) in the fund balance, if we could apply that and decrease the amount to ask taxpayers, that's something to explore."

Although the commissioners earlier discussed partnering with the city of Coeur d'Alene and the Lake City Development Corporation on funding the garage, Green noted, he said that seems unlikely now.

"I don't know if they're interested," Green said, adding that he will still keep city officials in the loop.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said after the meeting that he is looking into addressing issues with the recently suspended impact fees.

That includes meeting with cities on collecting impact fees, he said, and analyzing capital improvement projects that would be funded by the fees.

"It's something we're going through the process of trying to work out," Tondee said.

Nelson is also hoping to add more property to the county tax rolls, she said.

The county owns myriad "slivers" and "pies" of land acquired through subdivisions or owners walking away from them, she said. Because they're owned by the county, they don't produce tax revenue.

She would like to auction off the properties or sell them, she said.

"I think some have value," she said, adding that just getting them to produce tax revenue will be progress.

She tied this into a $70,000 master plan County Parks and Waterways is preparing, which will analyze whether county parks need to acquire more land or evolve otherwise.

"Looking into the future, 20, 30 years, we might see areas that need parks that we don't think need a park today," Nelson said.

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