Ana. council hears details of replacing the county jail

Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell stands in front of city hall on Thursday, April 12, 2012. Frank varga / Skagit Valley Herald

ANACORTES — Skagit County’s jail consultants made yet another trip, this time to Anacortes’ City Council meeting, to explain the complexities behind replacing the county’s aging and overcrowded jail.

Sheriff Will Reichardt told the council during its meeting Monday night that the jail is overcrowded and dangerous.

“We’ve had some sexual assaults up in the jail that never would’ve happened if we had the ability to … divide people. Things just happened,” Reichardt said. “And the county’s liability is hanging out there.”

Deputies face specific threats against their safety on a weekly — if not daily — basis, he said. One inmate even said he would inflict “maximum blood loss,” he said.

“When you hear those things weekly, it really drives a point home just how critical of a situation we have up there,” Reichardt said.

For six months, a council comprised of area mayors, judges and county commissioners, called the Skagit County Jail Coordinating Council, has met to find a solution to the overcrowded jail. So far, the group has decided the best plan is to replace the old jail in downtown Mount Vernon by building a new facility somewhere else in the city.

But it will take a voter-approved, countywide sales tax to build and staff the new jail through 2030, when consultants say the county might need a jail expansion.

Jail project manager Marc Estvold explained the plan Monday night to the City Council. The new jail would open with 300 beds ready for inmates, with core jail facilities like laundry and a kitchen that would serve 400 beds.

Councilman Brad Adams said it would likely be cheaper to build all 400 beds at once.

“It will cost more at a later date,” Estvold agreed. He said the county would ask architects to design a facility for 400 beds, and if the construction cost is low enough, extra beds could be added on as an alternate.

Councilman Bill Turner, who has attended most Jail Council meetings, said 2030 is not far off. But Turner said he didn’t want the voters to think they were building too many beds, while at the same time leaving room for future expansion.

“We should build something that meets our needs for today,” he said. “We’ve been working hard and I feel very good about the progress.”

Right now, the new jail is expected to cost between $55 million and $60 million. Several cities have asked for or placed an item on August’s ballot seeking a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax from their city voters to help pay for their own public safety needs. Anacortes has not yet done so.

If the county expects to raise enough money for the project, it will need all three-tenths of 1 percent in sales taxes that the state Legislature allows for public safety uses. That means the cities would have to agree to give their one-tenth money to the county.

Without all of the sales tax money, finance consultant Susan Musselman said cities would have to pay a higher per-day bed rate per inmate, or the jail could not be built at all.

Sales taxes are preferred by many officials over a property tax because a sales tax will pay for operations costs, like salaries and electricity. A property tax would only pay for the building. Also, a sales tax can pass with 50 percent voter approval, whereas a property tax requires 60 percent of the vote.

Mayor Dean Maxwell said currently there are several thousand outstanding warrants for arrest.

“Somewhere between 6,000-7,000 warrants haven’t been served in the county,” Maxwell said. “Some people would’ve been in jail for a lesser crime but are not.”

Anacortes’ council was the last of the large cities in the county to view the presentation. Commissioners will hear the same presentation today at 2:30 p.m. in the hearing room 1800 Continental Place.

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