San Diego County supervisors on Tuesday took a step toward building a new county jail in Santee, but withheld final approval until they can find the money to run it.
Chief Administrator Norman Hickey told the Board of Supervisors that the county, using emergency measures, could design and build a 600-bed jail and have it ready for inmates by the end of the year. But he said operating the jail would take $7 million annually, and he's not sure where he can find that money in a budget he is already having trouble balancing.
"Although we have the ability to expedite the construction of the much-needed jail . . . we may not be able to afford to open it," Hickey said. "As many as 250 other positions may have to be eliminated to staff the jail."
Hickey said the county is already short $11 million for the 1986-87 budget, which cuts current levels of service. And that figure doesn't include the impact of federal budget cuts or the cost of salary increases for next year.
At Hickey's suggestion, the supervisors voted unanimously to perform a full environmental study of the Santee site, adjacent to the existing County Jail for women at Las Colinas. They crossed the Otay landfill and the Descanso jail camp off the list of possible sites for the new jail.
The board also asked Hickey and Sheriff John Duffy to reexamine their proposed design for the jail with an eye toward reducing the number of sheriff's deputies needed to run it.
But the board agreed to withhold final approval until the environmental study is completed and until Hickey can identify exactly which county programs or services might have to be cut in order to open the jail.
David Janssen, assistant chief administrative officer, said those programs probably won't be identified until May or June, when the board begins to review next year's budget.
"We have two emergencies," Janssen said. "One is in the jails. The other is the budget."
Duffy proposed the medium-security jail as a way to relieve overcrowding in the six existing jails, which were built for 1,694 inmates but routinely house 1,000 more. The $9.4-million project would be financed by the sale of bonds that would require $1.1 million in annual payments. Duffy's plan, endorsed by Hickey, would include 32 barracks-style dormitories holdings as many as 19 inmates each.
Hickey and Duffy asked the board to waive several county policies requiring competitive bidding and replace them with a "fast-track" process that would dramatically shorten the time it takes to design, finance and build a jail. The board approved the first of those steps Tuesday when it agreed to award the contract of the environmental study to Westec Services Inc.
Consideration of the new jail apparently will not affect the county's plans to ask voters in June to approve a half-cent-a-dollar increase in the sales tax to fund a $420-million jail and courthouse construction program. That measure will go on the ballot if the state Legislature grants its approval.