New jail goes to voters
Sewage in the kitchen, attacks on deputies and walls so old that ice forms on the inside in winter are just a few of the concerning conditions at the Grand County Jail that prompted the county to ask voters for a new facility.
This year’s ballot asks voters to approve a .2% sales tax increase to help cover the costs of a $28 million Public Safety Facility, which would house a jail, the sheriff’s office and the county dispatch center.
“While the size of the existing facility is an issue, the most important factor in making the public safety facility the No. 1 priority was the concern for the safety of employees, the smooth operation of their mission and the citizens of Grand County,” County Commissioner Rich Cimino said.
The need for a new public safety facility was originally identified in the 2018 Grand Results strategic plan. A facility needs assessment from Denver-based Reilly Johnson Architecture estimates a need for roughly 29,000 square feet and space for 52 beds.
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin echoed Cimino about the importance of addressing safety concerns for inmates, law enforcement officers and visitors. He also described frequent incidents of electrical and security system failures.
Currently, the Grand County Jail, built in 1983, no longer meets the American Correctional Association Standards, nor the recommended guidelines for housing inmates with mental health concerns.
“We had a staff member getting assaulted,” Schroetlin recalled. “I had a sergeant at the sheriff’s office downstairs, merely 30 seconds away, and because of our poor radio communication system, one staff member continued to get assaulted while the officer got notified and got up through our system.”
The new facility, while still in the conceptual stage, is planned to go in the current location of the judicial center parking lot in Hot Sulphur Springs. It would also expand the sheriff’s garage near the existing impound lot and add an underground tunnel between the public safety facility and the courthouse.
It would feature more parking than what is currently available, a dedicated housing unit for inmates with mental health needs and a training center. The current jail will be demolished and turned into a parking lot.
“We are asking for a very reasonable — yet expensive because jails are expensive — compromise,” Schroetlin said. “Our county has been inundated with tourists, our traffic volumes are up and our tourists are up, which is a fantastic thing, but it ultimately tasks our jail.”
While county commissioners looked at remodeling the facility, they determined it would be too costly because the county’s inmates would have to be housed elsewhere during construction and a remodel would not meet future needs.
The county plans to finance part of the construction of a brand new facility through certificates of participation, a type of financing based on lease revenues, and existing revenues, such as the 1982 1% sales tax designated for infrastructure.
The .2% sales tax increase is estimated to raise $1.2 million each year and go solely to the construction of a new facility. It will also sunset in 20 years or once the public safety facility is paid off.
“If the voters turn this down, that doesn’t negate the need for a jail,” said County Commissioner Merrit Linke. “It’s just going to put it off.”
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