The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office plans to use about $900,000 of its contingency fund to remodel the 16-year-old jail in the wake of voter rejection of a major expansion project last spring.
County commissioners approved the plan Monday, giving Sheriff Larry Blanton permission to essentially take a loan from his own $33 million budget to pay for some projects inside the jail and sheriff's office.
If all goes as hoped, the loan will be paid back through future sales of surplus county land, a prospect that improves if the real estate market improves in coming years.
Blanton said Tuesday the projects will not expand the number of beds in the jail, which currently houses around 200 inmates a day.
"The concept is to take a look at a list of projects we would like to do to maintain the existing facility, and improve some existing facilities, within not only the sheriff's office, but in the jail," Blanton said. "Once we get those bids in, then I'll make a determination whether we want to do all of the projects this year, some this year -- some part, none or all of them."
A $44 million bond measure that would have paid for a major expansion was defeated by voters earlier this year.
Instead, the plans call for remodeling an evidence area, the kitchen area and break room for staff, among other things.
"It's necessary," Blanton said. "It improves our operational efficiency and effectiveness. It also takes care of the existing facility; it also allows us to accommodate what we require of our employees, who have to stay in the facility during their 12-hour shifts.".
"They can't go downtown for lunch, they have to eat in the facility," Blanton added. "A break area for the people to get away from their duties, which can be very stressful at times in a confined space with 200 inmates."
Blanton said the project will save the sheriff's office money in the long term. For example, by expanding the dry food storage capacity, more food can be bought in bulk, reducing the price.
Blanton hopes to start the bidding process quickly.