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Our view: County on the clock on new jail site

Cost could be an obstacle

Published on October 10, 2017 12:01AM

In the coming months, Clatsop County commissioners will likely face a tough law-and-order decision. They are studying whether to relocate and expand the county jail to the shuttered North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton, and the potential price tag ranges from an expensive $12 million to a whopping $28 million.

The 60-bed county jail in Astoria opened in 1980 and has a staff of 29. This year, it has averaged a population of 68 inmates per day and the overcrowding is growing. The crowding often results in inmates being released early, without having to post bail, even when they have criminal charges pending. Sheriff Tom Bergin cites multiple studies showing the need for expansion, and District Attorney Josh Marquis says without it law enforcement will “constantly be chasing the same people over and over again.” But two previous bond measures failed, leaving it to county commissioners to deliberate without any money to work with.

After learning the youth facility was closing, a $51,000 feasibility study on relocating the jail was conducted. Two potential options resulted.

One proposal advocates renovating and expanding the youth facility to 140 beds at a construction cost of $12 million. It would require a jail staff of 46.

The second option, at a price of $28 million, would be a much larger project, expanding the facility to 200 beds with room to grow to 252. It would require only 36 staffers because of its design features.

The higher cost of the second option would be mitigated after 10 years by its lower staffing cost, the study predicts. But both options represent significant payroll increases from current levels.

Moving the jail to the Warrenton site could solve two immediate problems of what to do with the closed facility, and how to expand jail space. But without a solid plan and obtainable funding for construction and subsequent payroll, neither are likely to happen. There are still many unanswered questions. While the idea is promising, unfortunately, the reality may not be without money to finance it.

The state is officially closing the youth facility this month so the county is now on the clock.


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