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Eva Szabo spoke against adding modular units to the Custer County Jail at a public hearing before the Challis City Council last week. COVID-19 restrictions prompted city officials to hold the meeting outside.

Concerns about the location and potential costs of adding modular units to expand the Custer County Jail were voiced during a public hearing last week held by the Challis City Council.

Because of coronavirus concerns and guidelines and the number of attendees, the meeting was moved outside the building to allow for proper physical distancing.

Custer County Commissioner Wayne Butts said the units would increase the county’s jail capacity to 16 inmates. He reminded City Council members the additions are required by the state. He estimated installation would take about two weeks.

No one at the meeting took up Mayor Mike Barrett’s offer to speak in favor of the jail additions. But several people spoke against the plan.

Jim Crocket asked that council members deny the county’s request. He said he was concerned about having more inmates housed near Challis Elementary School. Prior to the public hearing, Crocket said if convenience stores that sell alcohol aren’t allowed near schools, then inmates shouldn’t be allowed either.

Crocket said it makes more sense to build a new jail outside of town, perhaps past Blue Mountain Road.

“If it was my choice it’d be somewhere up in the mountains,” Dennis Perry said prior to the public hearing. When it came for his turn to speak, Perry only told council members to not approve the project, before giving the floor to the next speaker.

Nancy Del Colletti, owner of RERC Fitness Center, sent a letter to the council asking how emergency access to the courthouse and its parking lot would work with the new units. If approved, four new modular units would fill up the existing parking lot. Del Colletti worried it would make it difficult for firefighters and EMTs to access the courthouse and surrounding area with their equipment and vehicles.

Barrett, who read Del Colletti’s letter, shared similar concerns. He asked Butts if county commissioners planned enough room for large vehicles to navigate around the modular units and if there would be enough space for emergency workers to operate.

Butts explained that once the county’s Search and Rescue workers move into the old fire hall, their current building will be demolished along with a Quonset hut next to the Sheriff’s Office to make room for parking.

City Councilman Chuck Felton asked whether the commissioners knew for certain how many new employees would be added to the county’s payroll. Eva Szabo, a Challis resident, expressed similar concerns when she spoke against the project.

Butts said it would take eight to nine employees to adequately staff a larger jail. However, he said finding qualified jailers and other staff has been difficult. If county commissioners can’t find people to work in the expanded jail, then making the additions would be irrelevant.

Unsure as to whether council members had enough information, Barrett asked them to postpone voting on the permit until they had a chance to go over the information Butts provided and review the public comments. Council members agreed and chose to hold off the vote. They didn’t set a date to take action.