As Custer County Commissioners Wayne Butts and Steve Smith performed their quarterly inspection of the county jail last week, they told the two inmates and Sheriff Stu Lumpkin if they have any complaints, it was time to share them.
“We know you still need a new jail, we’re working on it,” Smith said to Lumpkin as they wrapped up the inspection.
Butts said a committee has been formed address jail issues. Tom Coates, a member of the Custer Economic Development Association board, volunteered to head the committee. Coates, along with association Director Jolie Turek and member Ken Dizes, have been tasked with finding new ways to make mandated upgrades to the county jail. In a separate interview, Coates said CEDA members are involved because a new jail would serve all Custer County residents.
“When we have people move here, the first thing they ask is how safe is it,” Coates said.
Concerned for public safety, state and federal officials have made it clear the county jail doesn’t meet standards. The 100-plus-year-old structure and the trailer used as the Sheriff’s Office are both in a state of disrepair, and commissioners have stated repeatedly if upgrades aren’t made, the county could be sued.
Suggested upgrades include expanding the jail’s capacity from six to 16, adding a handicap-accessible bathroom and an in-house laundry room. Commissioners have made several attempts to raise money to pay for the necessary upgrades, including twice asking voters to approve a bond issue that would have raised taxes. Last summer commissioners contemplated using payments in lieu of taxes money to do the work. That option failed after Challis City Council members denied issuing the county a conditional use permit, saying commissioners didn’t provide all the requested information.
Coates said committee members are exploring different options. He wouldn’t discuss those options, pointing out the committee was created just a few days before Christmas and they haven’t had many opportunities to come up with ideas.
Jail commission members are scheduled to meet with county commissioners Jan. 11 commission meeting. Coates said the committee hopes to have a solid plan by mid-February.