No one, it seems, is lacking an opinion on where to locate a new jail for Spokane County.
While Pine Lodge became a bit of a distraction during jail discussions last week, the need for a new jail facility – and revamped way of dealing with those arrested for crimes – is becoming greater than ever.
“In the final analysis, there is a nonbrick side to this as well as a brick side,” Lt. Mike Sparber, who is heading the jail expansion project for the sheriff, told those gathered for a workshop at the Public Safety Building on Jan. 28.
Sparber’s comments were directed at those who have been questioning the need for a jail that could cost up to $265 million to build and millions of dollars more each year to staff and maintain. However, he reminded those in attendance at the workshop that efforts would be made through existing programs and a proposed new “community corrections” center to move suspects through the system rather than the current “catch and release” model employed now to a great extent due to the lack of bed space at the existing downtown jail.
“That’s part of our due diligence,” Sparber said.
Spokane County will likely have to ask voters to approve a bond issue, tentatively set for the primary election, in order to pay for expanded corrections facilities to augment the overtaxed current jail built in 1986. Time is an issue because further inmate beds at Geiger Corrections will be lost in 2013, however the county’s lease could be extended if it’s clear that new jail space is being built elsewhere.
Just where that new jail will be is still a mystery. A second tower at the courthouse campus has repeatedly risen to the top of weighted studies and analyses, despite the high cost. A less-expensive “horizontal jail” could be build for about $45 million less on undeveloped land elsewhere, rather than a vertical tower downtown.
Two other locations – both in the West Plains area – round out the “top three” locations that will be the focus of an upcoming public hearing held by Spokane County commissioners.
Arthur Clum, a resident of Airway Heights, said his city should definitely be out of the running for any new jail.
“There’s too much of an impact for such a small community that’s growing in population,” Clum said. “We will fight your efforts.”
Jack Somers suggested that there was plenty of space on county-owned property at Spokane Raceway Park – also in Airway Heights. Such a location, however, is not currently in consideration.
When the talk turned toward Pine Lodge, located in Medical Lake, county Commissioner Bonnie Mager said it was a misnomer to call it an “11th site” on the 10-location list. She said there have been talks – mostly between the governor’s office, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner -- about utilizing Pine Lodge if the state chooses to closes the women’s correctional facility to tighten the budget. But those discussions are preliminary.
“Things are very much in the air,” Mager said.
The city of Medical Lake was planning to take action to formally oppose the location of any jail within its borders. Under the “essential public facilities” siting process, the final say will go to county commissioners, although affected jurisdictions may negotiate terms.