Supervisors question hefty costs of proposed detention facility

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed a county bid to seek an additional $24 million from the state to build a 160-bed detention and probation facility, but not before asking probing questions about the center's hefty operating costs and how it would fit in the county's criminal justice strategy.

The $67 million facility, to be located next to the main jail in Santa Rosa, would combine locked, minimum-security housing for offenders transitioning out of jail and halfway house-type lodging for those under an alternative sentence or on probation who the county says would otherwise be at high risk to reoffend.

County law enforcement officials have touted it as a way to reduce the specter of overcrowding and the more expensive option of having to build a new jail.

But the price tag for the county to operate the so-called Community Corrections Center, estimated at $11.5 million a year, concerned all five supervisors. Two called it the "elephant in the room."

"I think it is going to be a challenge for me to fully endorse this project until we have that discussion," said Supervisor Mike McGuire, referring to his questions about funding and the fit of the proposal within the county's detention and probation strategy.

Other supervisors voiced concerns that moving forward with the new grant application would further commit the county to a project that they said had not been fully vetted.

"How does the public benefit by us building this?" asked Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

The push-back came as opposition to the project emerged from a group advocating for greater county spending on road upkeep, one of many services and programs that get significantly less county discretionary money than public safety and criminal justice departments.

"Encumbering the general fund with yet another expensive obligation is unwise until the supervisors have approved a long-term plan to address the ongoing crisis concerning the repair and maintenance of county roads," the group Save Our Sonoma Roads said in a written statement Monday.

The comments prompted a rebuke from Supervisor David Rabbitt, who led questioning of the detention project, but also contended the county wasn't choosing it over road upkeep.

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