Commission to discuss jail next week

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Work on the county jail is still on hold after Valencia County commissioners voted unanimously to wait for further budget analysis last week, saying that future costs for the facility might be more than the budget can handle.

County purchasing agent Mike Vinyard said he came to the commissioners to "talk pods" and get the green light to tap into an extra $1.2 million in the general fund to help pay for some of the work.

The addition of 20, two-man cell pods to the jail has been an ongoing process the county has been working on for more than two years now. After a jail gross receipts tax ended in 2009, the county found it had a surplus of about $1 million that could only be used for improvements to the detention center.

The project has languished, thanks to various disputes with contractors and procurement protests, and construction costs increased.

When the county asked for bids earlier this year, they all came back over budget, Vinyard said. So the project was downsized and put back out for bid in August.

Then, finance director and acting county manager Nick Telles discovered that a portion of gross receipts taxes was being misdirected into the indigent fund. About $1.2 million had accumulated in five years.

"With a little money available, we wondered if we shouldn't move back to what was originally planned," Vinyard said.

After discussions with warden Joe Chavez, who expressed a desire for a recreation yard, according to Vinyard, the numbers were crunched to see if that was possible.

The current architect's contract with Scott Anderson falls within the budget, even in "expanded mode," Vinyard said.

"I felt it was in the county's best interest, due to the high visibility of this project, to come to you for a vote of confidence, to get a nod from the commission."

The contract started at $33,000 for the architectural services. With the additional work, the contract would increase to about $53,000, Vinyard said.

Commissioner Alicia Aguilar asked how much of the $1.2 million Vinyard was expecting to use. He estimated he would need $70,000 — $20,000 for the architectural services and between $40,000 and $50,000 for the additional construction.

Aguilar asked if the project would result in a fully furnished and equipped "turn key" project.

"The answer to that, I believe, unfortunately is no," Vinyard said. "We would need to furnish it."

With needing to purchase furnishings for the cells and the possibility of having to hire additional jail staff, Aguilar said she was not prepared to approve the changes until the commission had gotten a budget update from the finance director.

"I know we have approved other expenses that were not budgeted and are coming out of that $1.2 million," Aguilar said. "I spoke with the warden and he is not fully convinced this is the direction the county should take budgetarily and in structuring the expansion itself. There are more issues than I realized."

In an interview earlier this week, the warden said his discussion with Aguilar as a new commissioner unfamiliar with the lengthy history of the project may have created some confusion.

"What I wanted to inform the new commissioners of was what the situation really is," Chavez said. "And maybe we're using the wrong word — expansion. Expansion means growth, but I don't want them to think this will assist in overcrowding."

Chavez said all the pods were ever going to do was move the women out of the old part of the jail. The pods contain 20 cells, a total of 40 additional beds. Half of them will be dedicated to the female population, the warden said, while the other 20 would be used for the male inmates who needed to be segregated from the general population.

"We will be moving the females from the old part of the jail to new housing but we will still be paying to house inmates out of county," Chavez said. "I just wanted to make sure the new commissioners were on the same page — this is not going to relieve overcrowding."

Now that the pods have been purchased and are on site, the plan to add them to the existing jail has to be completed, Chavez said.

Once the pods are added and the women moved, Chavez said the next discussion he will need to have with the commissioners is what happens with the old part of the jail.

"What direction do they want me to take? Use it for overflow? Close it down?" he asked.

That direction will have a direct impact on whether additional staff is needed.

"If we just move the females and males, then staffing will remain the same," Chavez said. "If we continue using the old part of the jail, that's where the extra staffing comes in."

During the meeting, Vinyard told the commissioners the architect is waiting for direction and "the pods are very patient. I will not take action if you do not give us the go."

Commissioner Mary Andersen pointed out that the county was spending close to $70,000 a month housing inmates in other counties.

"And we stall and we stall and we stall. This project seems completely lost," Andersen said. "If (the warden) is not happy with pods, he needs to let us know and I want to hear that."

She asked that the issue be tabled until the next meeting, asking that Chavez attend the meeting. The motion passed 5-0.


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