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We have to come up with an affordable number for county jail fix

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

If nobody thinks we need a $42 million jail, and nobody thinks we can afford a $42 million jail, how did we end up with a $42 million price tag? The answer is in the normal construction process.

My wife and I have long considered fixing our kitchen so that it's not freezing in the winter and getting rid of the flat roof that leaks when it snows. We invited an architect who was recommended to us to develop a plan. She gave us three alternatives. One of them looked to best meet our needs, so we asked her to put a a price tag on it. "$14,000," she said. "Whoa," we said, 'that's not happening."

How did she get to that price? She estimated conservatively so we would know what the highest priced scenario would be. She hadn't spec'ed out the finishes so she assumed the best of everything. She included extra touches like a really nice bow window and a large deck (which we are not going to do) and so on. We talked, she revised, and came back to us with a simpler plan. We sent it to three contractors for estimates and the numbers which came back were much more reasonable for our budget.

Should we do the job? Well, in a cold winter, the kitchen isn't very usable, interest rates are low, and construction costs only go up.

We have the same considerations when it comes to the jail. We have to find a happy medium between the best possible plan which would meet all our wishes and what we can afford. And we have to work at it from both directions. We have to look at the tax burdens across the county and come up with an affordable number, and we have to continue to work the plans and specs with the sharpest of pencils to get the price down.

But one thing is clear: Refusing to do anything or making any improvements is not realistic and is not going to save us money — either in the short term or in the long run. Burying our heads in the sand and hoping the problems will magically go away, or throwing out alternatives that simply won't work in the real world are only going to cost us a lot more — and in more ways than financial ones.

Dave Pollak
Candidate for County Commissioner