Editorial: Center needed but expensive

Island County voters decided in 1998 that we needed our own juvenile detention center, and they were correct.

State law required that counties with our population have their own detention facilities, plus the benefits made sense. The Sheriff’s Department would no longer have to spend large amounts of time and money transporting juvenile offenders to and from detention facilities on the mainland. More importantly, troubled Island County youth could access counseling and support services at home and could be supervised by caring people in their own community. Such access would make it easier to straighten out these kids before they fell into a lifestyle of substance abuse and crime.

The arguments convinced voters to levy a one-tenth of one percent sales tax on themselves to fund a juvenile detention center, and it finally paid off last week with the opening of the Island County Juvenile Detention Center.

It’s a lot nicer than many probably envisioned back in 1998. Its 15,600 square feet of floor space includes 21 beds, plus areas for programs, education and physical activity. Judges can sentence juveniles to time in this facility without worrying that they’ll be wasting their time in a human warehouse. The kids will get what they need to start a new life.

It’s also a lot more expensive than originally envisioned. Inflation in the construction industry took its toll, and the final cost was $5.6 million, or $6.2 million fully furnished and equipped. The county commissioners had to borrow money because the sales tax wasn’t bringing in enough money fast enough to get it built before costs soared even higher.

The manpower needed to operate the facility on a 24/7 basis is also more expensive than originally anticipated. Fifteen new county employees were hired directly, and there are no doubt indirect costs in other departments. The county will have to dip into the general fund as the sales tax alone won’t pay for continuous operation. It was hoped that the sales tax could get the job done by itself.

However, higher costs than expected are not unusual in public projects and we ended up with an outstanding Juvenile Detention Center that’s professionally staffed and ready to help the county’s troubled young people set a new course in life. You can’t put a dollar sign on a life turned around, and we’re hopeful that in the long run the Juvenile Detention Center will pay off for Island County residents.

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