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Rising Law & Justice Center Costs Causing Concerns

Sonora CA — Despite drawing some heated criticism the supervisors ultimately passed four items regarding potential loans and three change orders on this week’s board agenda regarding Tuolumne County’s increasingly expensive Law & Justice Center.

District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce, who owns a contracting business voted no as a protest on three items and had to recuse himself from one due to a potential business conflict of interest. The rest of the board voted to approve allowing staff to seek future external financing for related construction projects in the event that it becomes necessary as well an internal loan of up to just over $2.9 million from the post retirement insurance fund. Also approved were three change orders submitted by the contractor, covering the latest cost uppers. These relate to architectural requirements imposed by the state on the recently opened Juvenile Center; expenses related to having to work around a lighting plan for the site submitted several months late by PG&E; and compensation due to the contractor for project delay days relating to the PG&E-generated delay as well as topographic/rock site issues and rainy weather.

Echoing the positions of all of the board members but Royce’s, District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer noted, “We have at worst case…we are going to be in a situation where we have a $28 million debt. This is not something that is not solvable. I would rather be debt-free. [CAO Craig] Pedro doing everything he can to get us there. This is a significant enough problem to look at it but it is not unsolvable. I am not implying that — we cannot not build the jail.”

Acknowledging one of Royce’s comments about how the project’s local cost share are making him sick to his stomach, Sheriff Jim Mele maintained that he could understand that completely. However, he emphasized, “I think that the public needs to hear their sheriff say that we need to stay the course. Staff needs to find a way to do it. When I say ‘staff’ I mean Mr. Pedro. I trust Mr. Pedro and his staff when it comes to money — along with our Auditor and Controller. If we do not, we will find ourselves like other agencies and jurisdictions under a consent decree. I would venture and say that I would probably come out in front of this board and say we will probably have to close this jail and start looking at renting bed space, because it is getting that bad. Sooner or later, somebody will end up suing us — we have already been sued.”

To date the county has secured $16 million in state funding for the recently open juvenile detention facility and $33 million for the new jail. Plans for the new courthouse building ostensibly funded through state judicial council coffers look to be on hold until those monies are formally secured through a state budget appropriation, perhaps in FY 2018-19.