BERNALILLO — A presentation made by Chris Urbanic, interim Sandoval County Detention Center director, left commissioners puzzling over how to find money to fix the jail.
Urbanic, along with county financial advisor Rob Burpo, made it clear to the commission that the detention center cannot run much longer under its current conditions.
The many problems facing the jail were first brought up in January during a legislative listening session when County Manager Dianne Maes asked for financial help to remedy newly found problems. These issues were magnified at Thursday’s meeting, leading the commission to speculate on how they could afford any of the $5.1 million of upgrades needed.
As it stands, the 30-year-old facility has 235 cells, 115 of which have serious health, safety and security problems, according to Urbanic.
He also verified the federal government is paying the county to house federal inmates at a rate of $67 per inmate per day, while the actual cost of housing and taking care of each inmate is $82.46 daily. On top of that, the actual cost is projected to rise to $95 per inmate per day.
“This cost is going to rise in the future,” Urbanic said. “The county picks up the tab for over a million dollars a year (for federal inmates), which makes up for about 50 percent of our population.”
Other areas that need addressing, he said, are the building of a perimeter fence on the south side of the complex and extreme plumbing problems throughout the detention center that pose a health or an electrical hazard.
“We have several cells that don’t close,” he said. “The inmates can leave their cell when they choose; yes, there are consequences for them leaving, but that still poses a security threat.”
Urbanic stressed to the commission that his cost analysis isn’t a wish list, but a list of bare-minimum needs to run the facility.
“We’ve been patching and patching and patching, and the simple truth is that we can’t patch anymore,” Urbanic said. “I honestly believe that if we do not invest with these critical health and security needs now, we will be back before you, this time discussing how one of our staff members, an inmate or, God forbid, a member of our community has been critically injured.”
Burpo laid out one possible solution to attain the funds needed by proposing a one-eighth of a percent gross receipt tax (GRT). Any funds from this proposed tax increase, according to Burpo, would go exclusively to helping the detention center get back on its feet.
“I’ve been on the commission for seven years,” Commissioner Don Chapman said. “Frankly, no one has ever brought forth the issue of the detention center.”
Chapman said the reason he brought this up is because this puts the current commission between a rock and a hard place.
“This is a really tough one for me because I don’t support tax increases, period,” Chapman said. “The detention center has been run with a government approach instead of a business approach and we have just been kicking the can down the road.”
In other business, an anticipated agenda item that was excluded before a vote was the much-talked-about ethics ordinance. Chairman Dave Heil said new information had been brought forth concerning the ordinance and the ethics board had not had time to review it.
The vote was 4-to-1 in favor of removing the ordinance from the agenda, with its sponsor, Commissioner Jay Block, asking Heil how much longer it would take for it to get ratified.
“I am a little bit surprised at the exclusion of the ethics ordinance,” Block said. “This is something we’ve been talking about doing for a year or so, and I understand the citizens committee wrapped up its work back in October…and here we are three months later and we’ve gone nowhere.”
In another matter, Commissioner James Holden-Rhodes headed the final highlight of the meeting by asking for a motion to postpone looking over a proposed oil and gas ordinance for 60 days.
Holden-Rhodes also added a part B to the motion, asking fellow commissioners to meet and include various tribal officials to structure a charter on the proposed ordinance.
In the end, a 4-to-1 vote passed the motion, with Chapman voting no.