Commission defers decision on expansion of county jail
Leavenworth A proposed expansion of Leavenworth County Jail will protect an existing revenue stream and ensure there's available space in the future, jail officials say, but final plans and approval remain locked up.
Sheriff David Zoellner and Jail Administrator Wade Schmierer assured county commissioners last week that the expansion at the jail, which opened in 2000 as part of the Leavenworth County Justice Center, was both practical and necessary.
Though taxpayers would front the estimated $1.5 million bill, the addition of a kitchen area and another for trusty and work-release inmates would pay for itself over time, they said.
"The jail's growing. The population is growing on a steady incline," Schmierer told Commissioners Clyde Graeber and Don Navinsky during a meeting Thursday, March 30. "Our average (daily inmate) population has gone up almost 30 in the last five years. If it continues to grow at that same rate, we're going to be out of bunks."
A growing jail population without additional space to put inmates also could cut into county revenues.
The jail currently has 157 bunks. But the county has contracted to house overflow inmates from Johnson County and the U.S. Marshal's Service. Both agencies pay the county $52.50 per day for each of their inmates housed at the jail. The revenue can be substantial; in January, for example, Johnson County paid an average of $1,000 a day to the county, said Leonard Ayres, a spokesman with the Sheriff's Department.
The addition would add 20 new bunks immediately, Schmierer said.
The proposal would create a kitchen in an existing unfinished space on the Northeast side of the jail and an expansion in two neighboring rooms currently used for file storage and jail records. The area proposed for the kitchen currently has a gravel floor.
"The expansion area includes an area for trusties, an area for female work release, and an area for male work release," Sheriff Zoellner said.
The projected cost based on initial designs have averaged around $1.5 million for all three spaces, but Schmierer quickly added those initial figures were based on a walk-through and essentially "guestimates." Jail officials haven't acquired final plans or costs.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," Zoellner said.
Commissioners raised the possibility of splitting the kitchen and the expansion area into two jobs, which Zoellner said was a consideration, but he mentioned they had planned to use the expansion area to house inmates working in the kitchen.
Currently, an outside service provides inmate meals. The addition of a kitchen would allow in-house preparation of meals, which Schmierer estimates would save $2 per day per inmate, based on what he called his most conservative figures. He did not give an exact figure for the revenue generated by selling bunk space, but said it could potentially recoup the $1.5 million cost in several years.
"If I use last year's numbers it would probably take about three to five years," Schmierer said. "But there are a lot of things that would need to come together for that to happen."
Commissioners will proceed with discussion of the proposal in the next meeting at 2 p.m. today, April 6, when they have asked jail officials to return and when Treanor Architects will appear to discuss the plans.