Juvenile facility design process begins

After four years of collecting money through a special sales tax, Island County is ready to begin designing a long-needed juvenile detention center.

Plans for the facility currently are being drawn up and county juvenile justice officials hope to break ground by fall.

"The best-case scenario is to begin construction in September 2003," said Mike Merringer, administrator of Island County Juvenile and Family Courts.

Although details haven't been finalized, Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works, said this week that the short-term detention facility will have approximately 20 beds and will take 12 months to build.

The county has been collecting revenue since 1998 to pay the estimated $3.9 million cost. The money comes from a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax.

Although money to pay for construction has been raised, there are other concerns officials have to address before the center becomes operational. The facility lost $190,000 per year in operating revenue when funding for a three-bed "residential center" for at-risk youth was eliminated in recent state budget cuts. That forced the county to redesign the juvenile detention facility without the center.

State funding would have helped pay the $680,000 needed annually to operate the residential center.

"When the state economy took a nosedive, the beds went away," said Island County Sheriff Michael Hawley.

To increase revenue, officials are considering renting open beds to surrounding jurisdictions.

Merringer said that he's confident the sales tax revenue, the money currently used for the county's juvenile offenders and money from rentals will pay the operating costs.

Island County is under a state mandate to build a juvenile facility. Also, a local facility would make it easier to work with juvenile criminals, who are currently sent to other counties when arrested or convicted of a crime.

"It's real difficult to implement programs when (juveniles) are sitting in Snohomish or Skagit counties," Merringer said.

Island County spends $165,000 a year to house juveniles in the other two counties and $20,000 to $25,000 a year for transportation costs.

The juvenile detention center is the last step in the four-step county courthouse campus remodel that started three years ago. The remodel included the construction of the law and justice facility and the remodel of the old courthouse into an administration building.

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