New jail now top priority for Yavapai County supervisors

YAVAPAI COUNTY - When it comes to the construction of a new jail in Prescott, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office is short on time and money.

At Tuesday's Yavapai County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Scott Mascher spoke to the board about the importance of putting a new facility at the top of the county's to-do list -- especially now that the department is losing its bed rental program.

"When they (the supervisors) realize we are losing a couple million dollars in revenues, this is something we really need to think about now and start planning for," Mascher said Tuesday.

The bed rental program was a partnership between the department and the U.S. Marshal's Service for housing inmates at the Yavapai County Camp Verde Jail.

The Marshal's Service paid the county a little over $60 per-day, per-inmate to house non-violent, minor crime classification offenders at the jail. Bed rentals ranged between 50 and 100 beds a month. The program has brought more than $9 million in revenue into the county since 2007, Masher said.

About two weeks ago, Mascher learned that the Marshals would no longer be using the department's facilities, Mascher said. The Marshal's have contracted with a private 5,400-bed prison facility in Florence, Ariz.

Without that revenue, the department will be forced to look to the county to help shore up the gap in their budget as well as help pay for a new facility in Prescott.

Mascher said the current year's budget is sufficient to keep the Prescott jail open for intake and booking in fiscal year 2014-15, as long as the county would pitch in $150,000 to $200,000.

The Jail District has about $1.4 million in reserves that they can dip into to help offset the loss of the bed rental program, Mascher said. That money was more or less a savings account toward building a new jail.

"We do have some time, but not a lot of time," Mascher said. "I will do everything I can to make sure we don't lose 24/7 booking. There's no way we can lose that."

The county doesn't have the money to build the jail - which is estimated to cost more than $15 million - or pay for the operation of the facility, Supervisor Tom Thurman said.

"If we go out to bond, they are not going to lend you money unless you have a way to pay it back," Thurman said.

During Tuesday's meeting, supervisors contemplated the possibility of extending and/or increasing the jail sales tax that is due to expire in 2019. Supervisors also discussed implementing an increase to property taxes.

Now that Mascher has done the homework, the board needs to figure out how to pay for the new jail, Supervisor Craig Brown said.

"What I would like to see the county do would be start looking short-term and getting started with the design and some of those things," Supervisor Rowle Simmons said. "You know that is going to have to happen and I'd like to see us find a way to get that process at least started."

It could take up to four years from the design to full construction of the new jail, Mascher said.

"I just wanted to say thank you for looking at this," Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall said. "This affects everybody, so count us in. If it's a jail tax, I'll guarantee you that the City of Prescott will support you 100 percent."

The 600-bed jail in Camp Verde has teetered close to maximum capacity a few times. In June, 572 beds were occupied at the jail, according to a graph Mascher presented to the board.

"I saw what happened before with the Prescott jail when we got under federal mandates," Mascher said. "I don't ever want to get in that situation again over overcrowding and population issues where we are under the gun to have to do something."

As the economy took a dip, so did the number of inmates at the jail, Mascher said. But now that the economy is rebounding, the number of county inmates is increasing.

"Normally what has happened when you get overcrowded is that you get mattresses and put them on the floor in the jails," Mascher said. "But hopefully we won't get to that stage if we start planning now.

"I mean, we are getting close, there's no doubt on that," he added.

The department has been working with local law enforcement to cite and release suspects rather than book then into jail, which helps keep inmate numbers and costs down, Mascher said.

While there is space to add on to the Camp Verde facility, the problem of transporting inmates to and from Prescott for judicial proceedings still exists, Mascher said.

"We are "mileing' out the buses and vans we have," Mascher said. "The next buses we are looking at are somewhere around $800,000 to replace the two we have right now."

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