Commission directs staff to re-bid jail

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What started as an update from the warden on inmate numbers ended in county commissioners directing staff to cancel all the current bids received for the jail's expansion, re-scope the project and go out for bid once again.

Valencia County Detention Center Warden Joe Chavez informed commissioners that the jail was currently overcrowded and has been for some time.

Chavez said there were 40 inmates housed at the facility in Cibola County to prevent inmates from sleeping on the floor. The 178 remaining at the Valencia County facility were sleeping three to a cell.

The jail can "comfortably" hold 145 inmates, Chavez said. More than that results in three people per cell, the warden said, and if the number hits 165, then inmates are shipped out to other counties.

Chavez said the planned expansion will hold 40 inmates, of which 20 will be female.

"That really only gives us 20 extra beds for the men. We are still going to be holding inmates out of county," Chavez said. "The expansion is only a band-aid. I would like to seriously entertain the idea for a GRT to build a new jail or larger expansion."

A bond issue to expand and improve the jail, which would have increased property taxes, was put to a public vote in November 2010. It failed with 13,589 people voting "no" and 7,129 voting in favor.

If looked at correctly, Chavez said the jail could be a revenue possibility for the county.

"The municipalities in the county pay us to house inmates. Bernalillo County takes in about $210,000 a month," he said. "In 2011 and 2012, the number of inmates we can charge for has grown."

If a new jail were built, the existing facility could be used for female inmates or possible juvenile offenders, the warden suggested.

"We send quite few dollars to Bernalillo County to house juveniles," Chavez said.

The county spent $114,642 housing inmates in Cibola County in 2011, and has spent $253,268 this year as of the end of September, Chavez said.

Commissioner Ron Gentry asked how many of the inmates were state prisoners the county was holding with no charge.

Chavez said the jail has been billing the New Mexico Department of Corrections for state inmates, and so far, getting paid.

"We are billing and they have been paying," he said. "I think there was a misconception, an assumption that the state wouldn't pay, but they are."

The jail has collected $33,000 so far this year for state inmates and $75,000 last year, Chavez said.

He continued, saying he and the county manager had engaged in discussions with the magistrates and district court judges about the possibility of the county providing additional funding for pre-trial services.

"We looked at expanding pretrial services for $70,000, which would bring the jail (population) down by 40 to 60 inmates," Chavez said. "That's what we're paying for Cibola in two months and we get a whole year of services from them."

The current contract with the county is for $50,000, which pays one person to run the program. Swingle said on average, the program keeps about 40 inmates a day out of the jail.

To increase inmate numbers, the program would need two supervisors, plus clerical assistance, for a total of $125,000, said County Manager Bruce Swingle. He continued, saying a program of that scale would keep about 60 people out of the jail each day for a year.

Commissioner Georgia Otero-Kirkham asked for the status of the jail expansion and the new cell pods.

Chavez said arrangements have been made to transport the cells to Los Lunas and they should be arriving in two to three weeks.

Chavez said once the protest over the construction bids was resolved, it would take about six months for the pods to be delivered.

"The way things are going, we are going to spend another $100,000 to house inmates out of county during the seven months of waiting," Otero-Kirkham said.

Swingle said while there is a protest on the bid, it should be resolved shortly. However, the low bidder, Albuquerque-based AIC General Contractor that came in at $1,160,161, has recently informed the county that its bid will need to increase by $35,000 to account for the doors it would need to purchase.

The county has $1.13 million budgeted for the expansion.

"After discussions with Joe (Chavez), it might be appropriate to basically reject all the bids and re-scope the project," Swingle said. "The $1.2 million bid exceeds what we have budgeted … We are looking at several hundred thousand more.

"If there are any change in orders, we don't have the contingency covered. I feel we need to re-scope and see what we can do without and still get this built. The other option is to accept the low bid and we don't have the money."

Chavez said there are other collateral expenditures the county would need to consider, such as additional staffing for the additional cells.

Otero-Kirkham asked why the county had $250,000 to house inmates in another county, but not buy things such as beds for the expansion.

Swingle said those expenses would come from other funds, but while the women would be moved out of their current space, it would still be needed for overflow housing and inmates would still need to be sent out of county.

Commissioner Ron Gentry reminded the commissioners why the push to renovate the jail even began.

"When this started, the main concern of Commissioner Otero-Kirkham was the women's section," Gentry said. "Go down there and look at the conditions; go down to 'the dungeon.'"

He said the desire to expand the jail was to mitigate the risk the county was exposed to due to the conditions of the women's facility and to alleviate overcrowding in the men's section.

"When we put this bid out originally, it was going to be a turnkey project completely done on that $1.1 million," he said. "Then they decided they couldn't do it, so we negotiated a settlement and we've got stuff stacked all over the place.

"Maybe we should look at the price of scrap metal. I'm being facetious of course, but to not realize this is more of a human effort than financial effort … We have to get those females out of there. It's the hell hole of this county."

Otero-Kirkham said it was a "sad commentary" that after nearly eight years of work, the county was unable to resolve this "humane issue. Let's just get it done. If a female inmate is hurt because of the way we are housing them, we are going pay a lot more than a couple hundred thousand dollars."

Commission Chairman Donald Holliday said the county already had "so much money invested in this that we need to go forward."

However county attorney Dave Pato pointed out the two sticking points — the county was still awaiting a resolution on the bid protest and it didn't have the funds to complete the project.

Otero-Kirkham said if the county opted to rebid the project, there may be more likelihood that local contractors would respond and actually be cheaper than the bids they have seen so far.

"If someone local bids this it may be less than coming all the way from Albuquerque," she said.

With four Albuquerque bidders and a protest, Gentry noted that now that all the bids are "on the table" and open to the public, the low bidder has added on cost.

"That's an old game we play, in my opinion. I'd like to see the commission cancel all the bids, re-scope and go back out to get more competitive bids and get this on a fast track. Everyone has shown their cards already and that's not fair."

Holliday pointed out the project had been on the fast track with Lone Mountain.

"They had something at the last minute," he said. "It's going to happen."

Gentry countered that the county could have "called the bond" on the project, but "we didn't want to do them harm."

Holliday said he didn't say that, but Gentry replied that "those are the facts."

Pato said he agreed with Gentry, noting that it had been extremely difficult to get a response from AIC on the protest.

"I think it is appropriate to cancel the bids," he said.

The commissioners directed the administration to cancel the current bids, re-scope the project to better fit the existing budget and put it out to bid once again.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.