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Supervisors Taking Cautious Approach On $32 Million Sheriff’s Facility

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Sonora, CA — The degrading former Tuolumne County Jail facility in downtown Sonora still houses the sheriff’s office dispatch and administration, and Sheriff Bill Pooley would like to see the county build a new facility at the law and justice center campus off Old Wards Ferry Road.

The county hired an outside firm to do a financial analysis of the potential project, and it would cost around $32 million.

At this week’s board of supervisors meeting, Sheriff Pooley stated, “The cost is, I hate to say it, more than money. It goes to public safety. Over the last six months we have had six failures of our 911 system, and one of them for over an hour.”

Because of an outdated electrical system installed in the sixties, when there are power outages, sometimes the generators do not kick on. There was also a recent small fire in the electrical system. In addition, during the March flooding event, there was water running in, and a bucket was set up to catch it.

Sheriff Pooley said there would be major issues if water ever gets onto the computers and creates electrical shorts in the dispatch center. Concluding, he stressed, “My personal opinion is that this is the most critical piece of infrastructure in this county.”

District Three County Supervisor Anaiah Kirk questioned whether there are grants available, similar to what partially funded the new jail ($33 million received) and the juvenile hall ($16 million received).

Sheriff Pooley said no, but stated that some places have gotten creative recently, including Kings County. He said Governor Newsom put a line item in the state budget for a new jail facility there as part of a compromise to use the former jail for homeless services.

Supervisor Kirk responded, “I like the idea, can we get an appointment with him (Newsom)?”

Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank pointed out that the existing jail was no longer safe for prisoners, so it is unlikely the state would allow other people to be housed there (homeless residents).

All of the Supervisors agreed that a new dispatch facility is needed, but they want to take a cautious approach, and not strap the county with a large new debt. It is estimated that the county would need about $1.6 million a year, over the coming decades, out of the General Fund, to build a new sheriff’s office facility.

District One Supervisor David Goldemberg noted that after the new jail and juvenile hall came online, the county was forced to do mass layoffs for a couple of years (combined with a slow economy), and he doesn’t want to see that repeated.

District Two Supervisor Ryan Campbell stated that he will only support moving the project forward if California or the federal government is willing to pay for a portion of it, like the jail facility. Board Chair Kathleen Haff agreed.

If the county chose to move forward today, and fund it alone, it would take at least four years to complete. By seeking other revenue sources, and creative possibilities, it will push the project further down the road.

The board also wants to review the big picture and how the project fits in with other facility needs.

To view the project financial analysis completed for the county, click here.

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