To offset jail overcrowding, county may have to pay twice

Clark County is considering a lease with one of the valley's most powerful developers to accelerate construction of a new jail for low-level offenders.

But the trade-off for speed is price.

The lease now being discussed with the Molasky Group gives the county the option to buy the jail for its appraised value after 10 years. By then, however, the county will have made more than $110 million in lease payments on a $128 million facility, so buying it would amount to paying for the same building twice.

"Optimally, we would prefer to build it ourselves," said Assistant County Manager Elizabeth Quillin. "It's just one of the functions of growth."

The separate facility for low-level offenders has been in the works for several years to relieve crowding at the Clark County Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas. The current proposal calls for a 200,000-square-foot jail and administration building with 1,038 beds.

Commissioners are scheduled to receive an update on the lease negotiations today. If they like what they hear, they could direct staff to sign the agreement.

The Molasky Group has offered to build the facility across Las Vegas Boulevard from Nellis Air Force Base and lease it to the county for $11.3 million a year.

Construction is expected to take 18 months to two years.

"Quite honestly, it's going to be full when it opens," said Leroy Kirkegard, deputy chief of Metropolitan Police Department's detention services division.

The county already rents jail space wherever it can, including 70 beds -- at $70 each per day -- at Lincoln County's detention facility in Pioche, 175 miles north of Las Vegas.

The county also regularly rents jail space in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas, but that could become unavailable as those cities struggle with space problems of their own.

"Everybody is suffering the same problems with overcrowding in their facilities," Quillin said.

The Clark County Detention Center has an official capacity of 2,859 inmates. On what Kirkegard described as a slow day late last week, the jail held 3,231 inmates. The daily census regularly tops 3,700.

On days like that, Quillin said, there are close to 500 inmates sleeping on cots in the jail's day room, a less-than-ideal set-up that requires additional staffing to maintain security.

"We're spending a lot on overtime," she said. "The jail has basically exhausted everything it can do to keep the people incarcerated who need to be incarcerated."

Kirkegard agreed. "We've got over 200 inmates out on house arrest," he said.

And while a jail for low-level offenders will give the downtown detention center some much needed relief, it won't provide a long-term solution.

Kirkegard said the county needs to add 2,000 high-security beds by 2011 and another 2,000 by 2017, just to keep pace with growth.

Asked why the county hasn't expanded the designs for the low-level detention center to include more than 1,100 beds, Quillin said the decision was a financial one.

"The reality is we have approved the staffing for only 250 beds" so far, she said.

The facility is expected to house inmates serving county time for misdemeanor and some nonviolent felony offenses. An on-site "video courtroom" will reduce transportation costs by allowing detainees to make some of their court appearances remotely, Kirkegard said.

Violent offenders and inmates with extensive criminal backgrounds or a history of escape attempts will continue to be held at the downtown jail.

Quillin said turning the project over to a private developer is seen as a way to speed up construction while leaving the county with the bonding capacity it needs to build other things.

The Molasky proposal was one of several the county received, but there was one key detail that set it apart, she said. "This was the only one where someone controlled a piece of property and was ready to go."

Quillin said the Molasky Group controls about 37 acres at the northeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sloan Lane. The property is located next to a fuel storage facility and across the street from the Air Force base, with no significant residential development nearby.

That's good, Quillin said, because "nobody wants a facility like this in their backyard."

This would not be the Molasky Group's first government job.

Its local projects include the Internal Revenue Service building downtown, the Nevada Department of Corrections' Casa Grande transitional center, and a controversial Social Security building that was developed over the objections of homeowners near Buffalo Drive and Del Rey Avenue.

The company's latest project, the 14-story Molasky Corporate Center, is scheduled for completion later this year and could eventually become the downtown headquarters for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

On its Web site, the Molasky Group touts its "reputation for skillfully managing build-to-suit projects for state and federal government agencies."