Deschutes County to borrow funds for jail expansion

Commissioners OK plans to add 144 beds without tax hike

Deschutes County commissioners unanimously agreed Monday afternoon to join with the sheriff's office and borrow funds to expand the county jail by 144 beds, more than two years after voters rejected a tax hike to pay for the project.

During the commissioners' regular work session, the jail expansion plan was unanimously approved by commissioners Tammy Baney, Tony DeBone and Alan Unger.

In May 2010, a general obligation bond for $45 million to increase jail space by more than 73,000 square feet and an additional 300 beds was defeated by voters.

"Since that time, the need for additional jail beds to adequately manage the adult population has not diminished," the sheriff's office said in a news release announcing the plans.

"When the May 2010 bond issue was defeated, the taxpayers of Deschutes County indicated they understood the need for additional jail beds, but wanted the Sheriff's Office and Deschutes County to put together a plan where additional tax money was not needed," according to Sheriff Larry Blanton.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office operates the only jail in the county. Current adult jail capacity is 228 jail beds. In addition the sheriff's office is currently renting 10 beds from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

An average of 16 people are booked into the Deschutes County facility each day, with a total of approximately 6,000 inmates on an annual basis.

Blanton said, "Our ability to adequately and safely manage our inmate population with a history of assaultive behavior, medical issues, mental health issues and co-defendant, judicial issues is critical."

The plan that was adopted and approved by the commissioners Monday is essentially a phased-in version of the original 73,0000-square-foot addition proposal that would allow the sheriff's office to provide adequate jail beds for years to come.

The county obtained a professional engineer's opinion about what 144 additional beds would potentially cost. The bid estimates are not being released at this time "to more adequately and fairly obtain competitive bids during the bid process," the announcement said

Commissioners and the sheriff said they have determined that the debt service for a full-faith credit bond could be satisfied through a combination of the county's general fund and current sheriff's office budget.

"For Deschutes County and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office to put together a plan to adequately manage public safety in Deschutes County by expanding our adult jail needs without asking the public for additional funding is a great accomplishment," Blanton said.

In the next few months, the sheriff's office will be putting together the final design plan, with an estimated total construction time of 18-24 months, the agency said.

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