ASOTIN — Sales tax money earmarked for a new Asotin County Jail will begin accruing this summer, but officials said it will be at least three years before the $13.7 million project is completed.
At Monday’s Asotin County Commission meeting, officials said they are seeking proposals for the design work and plan to begin discussions about the jail’s location once an architect is selected.
In addition, the commissioners gave the sheriff and undersheriff the green light to apply for a justice assistance grant to help cover future staffing needs at the new facility.
Sheriff John Hilderbrand and Undersheriff Jody Brown said consultants have indicated approximately 20 new jailers will be needed to run a facility with 156 beds. The grant they are seeking is close to $600,000, which would allow the county to hire 10 more corrections officers.
“We’re going to need more staffing, and we’re trying to offset that cost,” Hilderbrand told the board.
Commissioner Brian Shinn said he’s all for securing more funding, but he has concerns about hiring people through a grant that may not be renewed. The consultants said Asotin County could open the new jail with the same number of staff and prisoners currently in place, Shinn said.
Commissioner Jim Jeffords said it can’t hurt to apply for the money, although he would “hate to see it funded for one year and not renewed.”
“Adequate staffing is the number one priority of the sheriff’s office in order to make the new facility one that is safe, secure and able to work with community partners in offering programs for inmates,” Brown wrote in the proposal.
Brown said the sheriff’s office also plans to go after a grant to purchase new equipment that will be needed at the jail. That application will be submitted next year.
Construction of the jail will be funded through a new law-and-justice sales tax that was approved by voters in November. The 0.3 percent increase goes into effect April 1 in stores throughout Asotin County and is expected to generate about $1 million a year. The money can only be used to make payments on the facility and to cover future maintenance and operations.
Jeffords said the jail advisory committee has reconvened and has much to discuss in coming months, including selecting a finance committee with representatives from the cities of Clarkston and Asotin.
Once an architect is on board, the proposed sites of the new jail will be fully analyzed, Jeffords said. The consultant who visited the area prior to the election preferred county-owned land north of the Asotin County Regional Landfill near Sixth Avenue and Evans Road.
The commissioners plan to conduct a town hall meeting on the jail’s progress at a future date.
In other county business, the commissioners approved the prosecutor’s request to fill a vacant deputy prosecutor position. Craig Watt, who currently holds the job, is leaving at the end of February to work at a private firm.
After meeting with Prosecutor Ben Nichols to discuss their concerns about having a fully staffed prosecutor’s office amid a shortage of public defenders, the commissioners said they are willing to replace the outgoing attorney.
Commissioner Chris Seubert said the recent workshop shed light on everything Nichols’ office is handling, including child support cases, myriad civil issues, juvenile crimes, misdemeanors and adult felonies.
“It opened my eyes a little more to all they do over there,” Seubert said. “From what (the prosecutor) presented, it’s needed.”
Shinn said the county committed to having four attorneys in the office when the budget was adopted, so the request should probably be granted. However, Shinn said he still has concerns about the difficulty of hiring public defenders.
Seubert’s motion to fill the pending vacancy passed with a 3-0 vote.
Sandaine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.