Northern Idaho commissioner fights jail lease plan

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — A northern Idaho county commissioner has filed a legal challenge to the county’s plan to lease a new jail facility.

The Coeur d’Alene Press reports that Kootenai County Commissioner Jai Nelson announced the challenge in a statement on Tuesday.

Nelson said voters rejected jail bonds in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and the plan to lease a jail ignores those results.

“I’m filing in opposition to this private-public business arrangement to represent the citizens of whose voices are being circumvented by this process,” she said.

The only way for the lease agreement to go forward, she said, would be to put it on the ballot where it would need to get two-thirds of the votes.

A hearing is planned Friday where 2nd District Court Judge John Stegner will determine whether the lease is constitutional.

The 327-bed Kootenai County jail has faced overcrowding for years, and officials have previously said the county pays about $800,000 annually to house offenders at other jails.

The county is looking into a deal with Rocky Mountain Corrections. Under the plan, the private company would build a 625-bed jail and the county would lease it. Commissioner Dan Green said lease costs are still being negotiated with Rocky Mountain Corrections.

“We think it’s unconstitutional,” said Nelson’s attorney, John Magnuson, who in court documents estimated the cost of the lease at between $7.9 million and $9.9 million a year.

“We are trading in a nominal housing problem, at the average yearly cost of $648,000, for a gold-plated solution with a 1,200 percent escalation factor which equates to a $8.9 million annual remedy,” Nelson said in a statement.

Rocky Mountain Corrections hasn’t yet purchased property for the facility that would likely be located in Coeur d’Alene, Hayden or Post Falls.

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