'Not fiscally responsible': Sheriff, supervisors halt Siskiyou jail project

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald

After a decade of work to find funds to build a new jail, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue and county supervisors decided today to discontinue the jail project.

During their meeting Tuesday morning, supervisors voted unanimously to stop pursuing the project after hearing an update from LaRue, who said funds would be better spent making upgrades to the current jail and juvenile facilities. 

Siskiyou County Jail

"There is a lot of pressure to move forward and I feel like it's not really fiscally responsible to take that kind of hit to the general fund," said LaRue. He went on to say that while "we all want a new facility," it would be ideal for the county to approach it again in the future and look for other funding sources.

The county has $27 million in state bond revenue they could access, but the overall cost of facilities construction, operation, and appropriate staffing is too high.

"I don't think it's a sound decision to move forward," LaRue told the supervisors.

Jeremiah LaRue was sworn in as the new interim Siskiyou County Sheriff on Oct. 6, 2020 during a ceremony in front of the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka.

In 2016, Siskiyou County voters failed to approve a .25% sales tax measure that would have funded the new jail. The project was shepherded along for a decade by former Sheriff Jon Lopey, who in July told the supervisors that the project is imperative for the safety of the community, jail staff and inmates. He gave a passionate plea before his September retirement that kept the project temporarily afloat.

LaRue suggested that the county could instead use its general funds to upgrade the existing jail to keep it operating. This would include allocating money to update the jail's alarm systems and lock systems. There is also a need to replace areas of the roof and address plumbing and water issues.

"We feel like utilizing these funds we've saved for upgrading the facility is the smartest move going forward ... A goal of mine and the department is that we would be able to someday provide 24-hour deputy coverage. We'd need to hire more deputies on the field side, and the only way to achieve that staffing is to cut from the field, which I think is completely off the table," said LaRue.

Supervisors were saddened to hear LaRue's suggestion, but understood the reasoning it.

County Administrator Angela Davis was in full support of LaRue's plan. "It has been a very challenging and difficult road for 10 years, and basically, we have the funds available now that we would be able to expend to make repairs to the current facility," she said.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey, right, sits next to Undersheriff Karl Houtman during a Board of Supervisors meeting in 2016.

Davis added that she's "very much in support" of focusing on obtaining 24/7 law enforcement coverage in the county.

Each supervisor said they appreciate LaRue's honesty and transparency in his presentation of projected funds and the future of the project. District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon noted that while this "is a great psychological blow," she understands that the "ugly truth popped its head up," and it couldn't be ignored.

She asked if the county could utilize the $27 million in bonds to construct a smaller facility, but LaRue said that the issue would still be the same – building a facility that "we couldn't run in any capacity" – and there would still be the matter of what to do with the existing facility.