News

Detention center under way

In approximately one year, Island County’s juvenile criminals will come home.

Construction on Island County’s new 21-bed juvenile detention center officially began Wednesday, when county officials broke ground in a ceremony at the facility’s site.

“The real reason we’re here is to cover up this wall,” former Island County Prosecuting Attorney William Hawkins quipped about the exterior of the Island County Jail.

That was not the only reason that county commissioners, Sheriff’s deputies and attorneys gathered in the noon sun. The culmination of eight years of planning and saving brought thanks and praises from those speaking.

“We would not be here today if not for the people of Island County agreeing to tax themselves one-tenth of one percent,” Island County commissioner Mike Shelton said during the ceremony, referring to the sales tax increase approved by voters.

Despite the public’s funding, the funds that are available are not enough to cover the center’s construction. Officials pressed on with construction despite the shortage to avoid inflation.

Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said that the county will use a bond issue for approximately $2 million to cover the cost of the building, which was bid at $724,402 more than the county architect’s estimate of just over $4.5 million.

Marlow said that the county will combine two other bond issues, a 1997 bond that paid for Green Bank Farm and the Law and Justice center; and a 2001 bond will be renewed as well. The new bond will actually save the county approximately $600,000 because of lower interest rates.

“What this allows us to do is make part of this bond issue for the JDC,” Marlow said. “The rates on the bond allows us to get that money at a significantly lower cost than if we had used a bank loan.”

The current .01 percent sales tax will continue to exist, covering the operations costs of the new facility. According to preliminary estimates, operating the facility will cost the county approximately $1 million per year.

Of that, approximately $650,000 per year will be for salaries, wages and benefits. Insurance on the facility alone will cost the county approximately $45,000 per year.

The facility is not just a place to lock up children. Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock said that by law, the county was required to have the facility. Any county with more than 50,000 people must have a juvenile detention facility. Island County currently has approximately 70,000 people.

“We now have to opportunity to provide services to juveniles while they’re detained,” Hancock said. “You can maintain that community connection and have kids realize that people care for him or her.”

The new facility will have space for mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and education.

Hancock said that the opportunity to provide these services while the juveniles are incarcerated will help ease the burden on the criminal justice system.

“Let’s get started now; bring the counselors who are here now into the facility,” Hancock said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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