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Clatsop County commissioners hear jail options

New proposals are closer together in price, number of beds
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on November 9, 2017 8:46AM

County commissioners appear open to relocating the county jail from Astoria to Warrenton.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

County commissioners appear open to relocating the county jail from Astoria to Warrenton.

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Clatsop County commissioners appear open to relocating the county jail to Warrenton. The lingering question, though, is which design they — and taxpayers — can stomach financially.

In a September work session, the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office and DLR Group presented two proposals for an expanded jail at the site of the closed North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton. But at a second work session Wednesday, the sheriff’s office offered several other options.

One renovation plan introduced in September would create space for 140 beds and cost more than $12 million. The other plan calls for a new structure in the middle of the youth facility to house 200 inmates, at a cost of more than $28 million.

The larger plan would accommodate future expansion of up to 252 beds. Less staff supervision of inmates — 36 employees required compared to 46 in the smaller plan — would be required due to the design. Architects predict fewer staff would save the county 18 percent in staffing costs, offsetting the construction cost difference after 10 years.

Though the larger plan is his favorite option, Sheriff Tom Bergin recognized it would be a heavy ask from taxpayers.

“This is absolutely the most efficient in both construction and operations costs. However, it’s a Cadillac,” Bergin said.

Since the September work session, commissioners asked architects to draw alternative designs that would close the price gap between those two proposals. Following the Wednesday session, commissioners appeared to favor two of the five new proposals, while the “best case” one is no longer as likely to materialize. The $12 million option that simply involves a renovation of the facility — without the structure in the middle — is no longer being considered, County Manager Cameron Moore said.

One of the favored new plans would cost $18 million and house 148 inmates. The other, which the sheriff’s office called the “best compromise,” would entail a $24 million cost and 188 beds.

“I think the best compromise looks really good,” Scott Lee, the board’s chairman, said. “In my mind, it satisfies the needs of keeping down operational costs and gives us the most beds.”

The proposals were the outcome of a $51,000 study by DLR Group that examined relocating the overcrowded 60-bed jail from Astoria to Warrenton. The private firm provided similar services prior to the sheriff’s office relocation to Warrenton — near the proposed new jail site — last year.

The county began thinking about a relocation in the months leading up to the youth facility’s closure because of state budget cuts in October.

The jail on Duane Street across from the county courthouse is 37 years old. Inmates are often released early due to overcrowding.

The number of inmates housed at the jail has expanded and shrunk several times due to economic swings. Sheriff Bergin, District Attorney Josh Marquis and several other law enforcement officials have expressed a desire for a larger jail, but two bond measures in the last two decades have been rejected by voters.

Commissioners and county staff will discuss in the near future whether they want another work session. They may also come to a consensus on one of the proposals and hold a public hearing at an upcoming meeting.

At some point, the county would need to acquire the property, which the Oregon Youth Authority has offered at no cost.

“Just because it’s not going to be at any cost to us, I think it’s wise for us to consent to a plan for how we’re going to use it,” Moore said.

Commissioners Lianne Thompson and Sarah Nebeker stressed that the impact on taxpayers should be a priority. Lee and Moore suggested the county aim for the November 2018 election if a potential jail plan were to go before voters.

Officials, including state Sen. Betsy Johnson and Bergin, have asked to have full support from commissioners to avoid the pitfalls of previous bond measures.

“It’s going to be a tough sell any way you look at it,” Lee said.


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