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Ada County eyeing possible Jail, Coroner’s Office expansions

Ada County eyeing possible Jail, Coroner’s Office expansions
Posted at 10:32 AM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 17:09:36-04

BOISE — “We are above our operational capacity each day. We are maxed out for bed space,” said Ada County Sheriff Stephen Bartlett, in talking about the current inmate population situation at the Ada County Jail.

That’s why the Ada County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing next Tuesday on looking at using foregone tax money to expand both the Jail and the Ada County Coroner’s Office.

But what’s a foregone tax? Ada County Clerk’s Office spokesperson Chelsea Carattini explained in this way: “A taxing district -- such as county government -- can decide not to collect the full amount of taxes allowed by law in a given fiscal year. The dollars that are not levied are termed ‘forgone taxes’ and they are considered ‘banked’ for future use. A public hearing is required collect forgone taxes.”

The Commissioners are scheduled to discuss a resolution to use forgone taxes in the amount of $5,563,093 for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget in a hearing on Tuesday.

If approved, the forgone taxes will be designated for the following projects:

1) Design cost associated with a new Ada County Coroner’s Office

2) Design cost associated with a new jail pod for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office

3) Acquisition of real property for expansion of the Ada County Jail and Public Safety facilities

4) A second driver’s license location for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office

"While we have made every effort to keep people who can safely be in the community out of jail with our wide variety of pretrial and alternative sentencing programs, we are above our operational capacity each day,” said Bartlett. “With Idaho Department of Correction inmates accounting for as much as 20% of our population every day, we are maxed out for bed space. Our inmate-staffed kitchen and laundry are at the absolute limit for what they can manage each day.”

In a recent “State of 208” report, 6 On Your Side/Fox 9 reporter Karen Lehr looked at how Treasure Valley growth has impacted the Ada County Coroner’s Office, prompting the need for additional space.

"We need more cooler space; we're consistently full," Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens said. "If we had any kind of mass fatality incident here whatsoever, we would really be struggling. We'd be scrambling."

Since 2011, Owens’ office has seen its caseload increase by more than 75% -- from 325 bodies in 2011 to 575 in 2018.

Right now, Owens said, the Coroner’s Office can hold about twenty bodies at a time. But with an overwhelming increase in fatal overdoses and completed suicides, it's a sad reality: space fills up fast.

“What happens is: we've got a weekend build-up,” Owens explained. “So from (any given) Friday afternoon to Monday morning, we are completely packed.”

“We are maxed out on space,” she added. "Our office space is all being occupied. If I needed to hire a third full-time doctor right now, I couldn't do it.”

The Commissioners are scheduled to hold the public hearing Tuesday, July 9, at 6:00 P.M. in the Public Room of the Ada County Courthouse, at 200 W. Front Street in Boise.

The hearing will include testimony from the Ada County Sheriff, and the Ada County Coroner about what Duncan termed “critically-important infrastructure needs,” and how money from forgone taxes will help address those needs.

The hearing will be open to public testimony.

Ada County residents may also submit comments ahead of the hearing by sending them to budget@adacounty.id.gov.

Auxiliary aids or services for persons with disabilities are available upon request. Please call (208) 287-7100/287-7979 (TDD) by 5 p.m. three days prior to the public hearing, so that arrangements can be made.