We gamble with liability by delaying a new jail.
The existing jail must be replaced as it is no longer safe for employees and inmates. (The jail is about 31 years old. The Seattle Kingdome closed after only 22 years of use).
The county has a statutory responsibility to operate a jail. The current jail was built in 1984 with 148 beds. It now operates at twice the design capacity. As with anything that’s over used it wears out quickly. The jail’s structural integrity is questionable; parts are difficult to obtain for critical operating systems; inmates break off pieces of the building; the spread of disease cannot be contained; water and raw sewage leak below into the Sheriff’s Office.
The existing jail cannot meet the current and future demands of the combined volume of municipal and county inmates. Population levels in the jail are impacted by a variety of factors: Legislative mandates, mandatory arrests, changes to sentencing laws, community population increase, proximity to a foreign border, and use by state and federal law enforcement.
The County Council must approve and submit the sales tax ballot proposition to county voters. To delay such an action is placing county employees and inmates in a health and safety risk, which ultimately equates to financial liability for Whatcom County.