By editorial board • 

Lack of long-range planning continues to plague county

Seventeen years ago, we urged the city and county to engage in a round of serious long-range facility planning, designed to ensure they were positioned to anticipates foreseeable needs over the first quarter of the new century.

After addressing city needs, including a new police station, civic center and civic plaza, we said: “Meanwhile, the county, too, feels a space squeeze. The courts need more room, and health and human resources programs are scattered.”

We concluded, “Whatever the challenges, now is the time for both city and county to get cost-effective, efficient facilities in place to handle coming decades of growth.”

Well, we ended up one for two.

All new city facilities are all in place, but the county hasn’t even summoned the gumption to develop a long-range facilities plan, let alone carry one out. While one for two wouldn’t be disastrous for a baseball or basketball team, it falls short of our expectations for local government.

Earlier this week, we carried a front-page story headlined, “Sheriff: Aging jail needs repairs, modernization.” The sub-head noted, tellingly, “But county has no long-term funding plan.”

Actually, the county has no plan of any kind, funding or other. It is just continuing a long tradition of aimless wandering. That needs to end.

The jail features 285 beds, but only averages 180 to 190 inmates. It used to turn a tidy profit renting out beds, but the flow turned to a trickle several years back and dried up entirely two years ago.

Sheriff Tim Svenson had been using bed rental revenue for jail maintenance and renovation. But all too predictably, those needs stuck around when the revenue went away.

Earlier this month, the county infused its jail upkeep fund with $800,000 in one-time money, pushing the balance to about $1.3 million. So far, however, it has done nothing to forge a long-range solution.

The most critical need is a new control panel for the jail’s computerized security and video surveillance system. Svenson says a firm specializing in such work is prepared to complete the job by year’s end for $1.6 million, but County Administrator Ken Huffer prefers a full-blown competitive bidding process that would take months.

In the short term, the jail, built in the 1980s and renovated in the 1990s, is also desperate for new industrial laundry facilities, an update plumbing system and treatment of its cinder block walls to stem leaks. In the long term, it demands outright replacement, as it no longer works in a modern correctional facility, where rehabilitation takes precedence over retribution and inmates increasingly require treatment for health, drug addition and mental health issues.

Six months ago, we urged the county to commission a serious exploration of its long-term space needs, citing the same costly, haphazard and unplanned sprawl through close-in neighborhoods we mentioned in 2002. The county now has one in the works, and it should most certainly include a look at jail needs, which were not originally factored in.

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