Fresno County supes called on to support new jail

The Fresno BeeJanuary 6, 2014 

A plan to move ahead with a new jail project expected to gain support today from Fresno County supervisors will allow the county to get $79.2 million if the county sets aside $8.8 million of its own.

In October, county supervisors voted unanimously to seek the state money to build a new 300-bed jail in downtown Fresno.

The Board of State & Community Corrections is expected next week to approve counties that will receive money from a $500 million pot. Awards are made on a competitive basis.

"We wanted final approval from the board before that meeting," Sheriff Margaret Mims said.

Supervisors are being asked to use about $7.97 million from a tobacco settlement and the land -- valued at $580,000 -- for the matching funds. As part of the match, the county was permitted to use $251,000 that paid for a jail needs assessment.

Under the proposal, the new jail, called the west annex, would replace the existing, 1940s-vintage south annex jail. The south annex jail has 499 beds, 199 more than the new annex.

The new jail would be adjacent to the existing main and north annex jails on the downtown block bordered by M, L, Merced and Fresno streets. The jail would be built behind the north annex.

Fresno County was one of 12 that was fully funded for new jail beds.

"It's another key we have to turn that will turn the state's recommendation into an award," said board Chairman Henry R. Perea.

State officials said 36 counties asked for $1.3 billion and "unfortunately the available dollars could only fully fund 12 counties and partially fund three counties," Gary Wion, deputy director of the Facilities Standards and Operations Division for the Board of State and Community Corrections, wrote in a letter to Mims last month.

Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said the board will use today's board meeting to re-emphasize its support.

"We are showing the political commitment for a competitive application so the strongest message possible is sent to the authority that is deciding on the application's merits," he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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