The County Commission voted Wednesday to move ahead with a study aimed at replacing the downtown jail that Sheriff Jim Hammond said could be decertified due to a number of problems.
The commission voted to spend up to $460,000 with the Public Financial Management (PFM) firm that is looking at whether the county should place many more prisoners with a private jail firm and reduce the county operation.
One option would be to build a large new facility at the county workhouse at Silverdale, where the Corrections Corporation of America already houses a large number of inmates.
PFM began the study in July and will now be involved in seeking qualifications from a firm that might design, build, operate and perhaps finance the jail replacement.
The contract is for $30,000 per month plus expenses - up to $210,000. PFM would receive up to $250,000 more if the project goes to completion.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said no decision has been made yet on whether to further farm out the county jail operation, but he said it might bring millions of dollars in taxpayer savings.
Commission Finance Chairman Tim Boyd, who cast the only no vote, said he did not understand how a private firm could build the jail expansion for less than the county. County Mayor Coppinger said some private firms both design and build projects, while the county has to handle both separately.
Commissioner Boyd also said the county should be able to finance the project cheaper than a private firm. On the issue of the private firm paying taxes, he said it would just raise its charge to the county to cover the taxes.
Other commissioners said they got briefings from county staff on the project, but Commissioner Boyd said he had not heard from the county mayor or staff. He earlier clashed with Mike Compton, chief of staff to the county mayor.
Commissioner Greg Beck, who at one time worked in the jail, said he was concerned that even if current county jailers get hired by the private firm that they will be paid much less.
County Mayor Coppinger said Sheriff Jim Hammond, who by law operates the jail, "is the elephant in the room. He has the final say-so before it goes to the commission."
Sheriff Hammond, who said the current jail has not worked well from the start, is part of a team working on the project.