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Supervisors approve analysis of jail needs

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors has hired a consultant to assess whether a new jail is needed and, if so, how it should be designed and built, and what the cost will be.

Chinn Planning, which has offices in California and South Carolina, will be paid $157,160 to conduct a study that will look at a number of factors that will determine the future capacity needs of the county.

Supervisors and county officials have said they believe there is a need for a new jail. They unsuccessfully lobbied voters in November to pass a sales tax increase that would have paid for a new 300-bed jail in Prescott to be used in conjunction with the now-full Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde.

Officials warned that the construction of the estimated $26 million jail would require big county budget cuts without the increase because state law limits property tax increases.

Among the factors Chinn's analysis will consider are jail trends, in particular the average daily population, which is figured from the number of admissions and average length of stay, according to the company's 31-page presentation to the board.

The group will also consider such factors as judicial system operations [case filings, time to trial, alternatives to incarceration], law enforcement [crime and arrest statistics] and demographics.

The law enforcement statistics cited by Chinn show that Yavapai County's crime rate dropped an average of 4.8 percent per year from 2004-13. In addition, the four categories of violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault — each decreased over the time period.

At the same time, the county's population increased an average of 2.3 percent per year, according to the document.

Chinn will also evaluate jail operations, including a profile of the population to be served and its security and program needs. It will develop a staffing plan and estimated operating costs.

As for the physical facility, the analysis includes functional descriptions, space allocation and security requirements. Chinn will develop a concept diagram and estimated capital costs.

The study will take about three months, according to the company's master planning process and schedule. It will culminate in a master plan that addresses development strategy, cost estimates, implementation schedule and phasing.

Chinn's analysis is phase one of the jail project. Phase two — project management for construction — will require a separate RFQ process.

Prior to the November election, a newsletter for county employees stated that the Camp Verde facility is operating at capacity and projected that the number of inmates will increase by a minimum of 3 percent per year into the foreseeable future. County officials expressed concern that overcrowding would prompt intervention by the federal government.

Supervisors have noted that the ballot question rejected by voters was not whether to build a new jail, but how to pay for it. The measure would have increased the jail sales tax from a quarter cent to a half cent over 20 years. The current quarter-cent tax expires in 2020.

In April, the Board of Supervisors contracted with Arizona State University to study the economic impact of tourists and visitors to the county, perhaps laying the groundwork to again ask voters to approve a sales tax to fund a new jail.

"The primary purpose of the current proposal is to estimate the amount of Yavapai County sales tax revenue resulting from tourism and other non-resident sales in the county," an ASU document stated. "This will enable the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors to re-enter into a dialogue with local residents to demonstrate how the burden funding Yavapai County jails could be shared inside and outside the county."

Prescott has been without a jail since 2009, when a 130-bed facility was closed to save costs, according to the 19-page contract and description of the study from ASU. However, the cost of transporting prisoners from the courts in Prescott to the Camp Verde Detention Center has risen to about $1 million per year. In addition, the facility is operating at its capacity of 600.

The current sales tax generates about $7 million of the jail district's $16.7 million annual budget, according to ASU's report. In the absence of a sales tax increase, Yavapai County is expected to face a $1.5 million to $2.5 million annual shortfall in the jail budget within five years, even if property taxes are raised to their statutory maximum.

Without the sales tax, supervisors have said they will consider a combination of a property tax increase, reduction in services and other cost-cutting moves.

"As a board, we'll take a systematic approach to the challenge and follow a sensible budgetary process," District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said earlier this year. "We'll look to do this in small increments to have what we need to not borrow money."

Michael Rincker can be reached at 282-7795, ext 117, or

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Original Publication Date: August 26, 2015

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