Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 7, 2014

GT board member urges caution on new jail talks

TRAVERSE CITY — At least one Grand Traverse County commissioner hopes officials take their time before deciding whether to build a new jail, a venture that could cost taxpayers as much as $30 million.

Commissioners will hear an update on the county jail’s population during a 6 p.m. committee meeting today at the Boardman Avenue Governmental Center.

An inmate influx recently stretched past the county jail’s current 168-bed capacity, causing officials to house excess inmates in neighboring jails, and prompting commissioners to revisit a long-shelved plan to build a new, bigger jail.

Commissioner Larry Inman, who will not attend today’s meeting, said board members need to consider two things before they decide if the county needs a new jail: whether the recent inmate influx is a statistical bubble as opposed to a trend; and whether boarding excess inmates at nearby jails makes more sense than building a new facility.

“However, we need to recognize it is an aged facility and there is expectations Grand Traverse County will continue to grow, he said. “We should at least be prepared to gather information and start a community discussion.”

County records show the jail’s average daily population climbed to 181 inmates in April after reaching 171 inmates in February. County Administrator Dave Benda said those numbers do not appear to be an anomaly.

“It’s looking persistently high,” Benda said. “This is not the time of the year we should be high.”

Excess inmates currently end up Leelanau and Charlevoix county jails at a cost of $30 a day -- less than the $56 a day it costs to house inmates in Grand Traverse County’s jail -- but jail officials said lodging inmates elsewhere creates logistical problems and transportation costs, and other counties will only accept certain inmates.

Commissioners in March told Benda to prepare a timeline and recommendations on how to move ahead with a new jail, a proposal first championed by a 2004 “Blue Ribbon Committee” of county officials and citizens.

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