Even before it opens, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco says the planned expansion of the county’s detention center in Land O’ Lakes will fall short of the county’s needs.
The sheriff and County Administrator Dan Biles addressed the issue during the county board’s Dec. 7 meeting.
“One of the reasons that people are happy to move to Pasco County is because it’s safe,” Nocco said.
However, he said, the capacity of the county’s detention center can’t accommodate the county’s needs and the expansion won’t resolve that, either.
Pasco County voters approved a bond issue in 2018 for a 1,000-bed jail expansion.
A PowerPoint prepared by the Sheriff’s Office, which was included in the county’s board’s agenda packet, says the bond will fall $19 million to $25 million short and will provide just 540 beds, if the shortfall is addressed.
The Sheriff’s Office manages the jail for the county, which falls under the county board’s jurisdiction.
Currently, a temporary structure helps address the bed shortage at the jail.
The PowerPoint notes: “With only 540 additional beds and with the temporary structure outliving its expected use by several years, the county jail expansion will be outdated and over capacity before it is even open.”
Nocco said the county’s current situation has its roots in past failures to address the county’s jail needs.
“These are things that happened way before any of us. These are things that have been going on for years and because they weren’t dealt with then, we’re now in the predicament we’re in,” Nocco said.
He cited a study done in 2015 projected that the county’s detention center would need 2,535 beds in 2024. It currently has 1,432 beds.
Another problem the county is encountering is the rising cost of materials to construct the jail expansion, Nocco said.
“Nobody expected material to go up the way that it did. Every industry is dealing with it right now,” Nocco said.
Biles said: “Since the end of ’18, the cost of materials for this project has gone up almost 45%. It’s accelerating. It’s not slowing down.
“Every month we delay that, the prices are increasing anywhere from 4% to 5%.
“It (the jail expansion) is significantly short (of) funding and we are working to bring it forward, with a funding solution to that,” Biles said, estimating the shortfall at between $20 million to $30 million.
“The current contract will be here in front of the board in the next few months, for the project price. We expect to start to construct this spring,” Biles said.
Nocco also noted that construction funding is only part of the problem. The bond issue did not address staffing costs.
He estimates that 250 additional employees will be needed to staff the jail expansion.
“I just want to bring this to your attention because this is an issue that — since the early 2000s — hasn’t gone away,” Nocco told the county board.
Pasco County Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey told Nocco: “We’re glad you’re here today, but it’s frustrating news.
“I’m sure we’ll be talking about it, later this year, about how to come up with the funding,” she said.
Published December 29, 2021