Jail’s going to grow

Kootenai commissioners agree to 126-bed, $11.9 million expansion

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Kootenai County commissioners are on board with a bigger jail.

They agreed Thursday to move forward with plans for a 126-bed, $11.9 million expansion that is expected to be operational by late spring of 2018. A shell will be included in the expansion to add 108 additional beds in the future.

"I really like the design of that, and I like the future expansion — that's great," said Commissioner David Stewart.

The commissioners discussed the proposal Thursday with the county's building and grounds director, Shawn Riley, among several other interested parties including jail bureau commander Maj. Kim Edmondson and Undersheriff Dan Mattos. Riley unrolled the floor plan for the commissioners and Chairman Dan Green and Commissioner Marc Eberlein agreed with Stewart on the design being worth the cost in the county's 2017 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The project will be paid for from the fund balance of $37 million and will not raise taxes or require a public vote.

The current jail has 90 "hard cells" with a maximum capacity of 327 inmates. The expansion will add 94 additional hard cells and 28 medical beds. There are only four medical beds now, and with the growing number of inmates with mental health and medical issues, the beds are needed so the jail can open up the booking cells for incoming arrestees.

One question that arose during the meeting was how much added staff would be needed to accommodate the expanded space. Mattos wasn’t sure of the exact number, but said added staff would be required. He said the cost per staff member would be more than $50,000 per year.

"Do I think that's the right thing to do?" Mattos asked, adding, "I do."

Eberlein said the money the county spends housing prisoners in outside facilities would make up for the salaries of added staff members.

"And I think it is the right thing to do because every time we run up and down the road with a prisoner, that prisoner has a possibility of escaping, more readily than in here, and that's a hazard to the public," Eberlein said.

During the 2015 fiscal year, the county spent $477,742 housing inmates out of county, and $659,416 in the 2014 fiscal year. The expansion would solve the problem of transporting inmates elsewhere.

Riley said the job should be out to bid by January or February of 2017 and the additions may be operational by May or June of 2018.

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