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On his way out the door for a new job in Moab, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder told the County Council it needed to advocate for a tax hike next year to rapidly expand the number of jail beds available.
He said the council should include in its 2018 budget an additional $9.3 million to open and operate two more pods for nearly 370 beds in the Oxbow jail.
The matter, he said, is not up for debate.
"Debating the need for new jail capacity is futile," Winder told council members Tuesday. "Salt Lake County must raise taxes in 2018 to support the most basic criminal justice need, which is new jail beds."
Council members agreed, later voting unanimously to tentatively include $269,000 for various unspecified updates to the Oxbow jail where the county offers treatment to inmates. The vote, if finalized next week, would give the Sheriff's Office money to get ready to fill it with hundreds more inmates if it later decides to spend millions staffing the additional pods.
During a presentation that at times seemed like an exit interview, Winder cast doubt on the success of a program that pools state and county money to ship Salt Lake County inmates to other jails.
He also said he doesn't expect that the effort to spend $2.8 million per year through 2019 to send county inmates to other jails to free up space immediately will be as fruitful as he once hoped.
Salt Lake County hoped the program would involve sending up to 300 inmates elsewhere. But Winder told council members the $705,000 infusion from the county to jump-start the effort this month allowed him to transfer 30 inmates so far, and he said it wasn't likely the he'd find space for the other 270.
"I will tell you right now that plan is looking less and less advantageous," Winder said, noting that jail bookings are going up statewide, which is filling space in jails he'd hoped would accept inmates. "You can't rely on those  beds."
The sheriff on Tuesday evening was confirmed, 5-0, by the Moab City Council to become the bustling tourist city's new police chief, effective July 1. The council vote authorized City Manager David Everitt to negotiate a contract and a base salary of up to $150,000 for Winder, which would nearly match his $151,563 base salary as sheriff. The salary range for Moab police chief tops out at $132,273.
The council's approval creates a sheriff vacancy the Salt Lake County Democratic Party will fill this summer.
"It was his time in life and the city's time for us to take him up on his experience," Moab City Councilman Kyle Bailey said of Winder before Tuesday's vote.
Councilwoman Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said in a text message after the vote that the council is "really excited" to have finalized the hire, and Winder will be a "welcome addition to our community."
The issues of jail overcrowding, which have plagued Winder for his entire tenure, will continue long after he's gone unless voters in Salt Lake County approve a tax hike to expand facilities.
Opening the two wings bringing to three the total of open wings at the Oxbow jail by July 2018 would open 368 beds, Winder said. Most of the $9.3 million cost would come from salaries and benefits for the additional staff that would run the wings. The budget impact for 2018 would be about $8.2 million.
The county needs 500 more jail beds now, Winder says, and he expects it will need an additional 1,000 in the next 15 years. Undersheriff Scott Carver later told the council it would be at least four years before any beds could open at a newly built jail.
"Law enforcement leaders, the municipalities they represent and the citizens of Salt Lake County will not tolerate any further delay," Winder said during his presentation.
Part of the need comes as Winder projects that annual jail bookings will increase from 32,000 this year to 40,000 in 2018. He said the jump stems in part from eased booking restrictions, which he said will lead police to feel free to arrest more people.
"They're going to book everybody they want," Winder said.
It also comes as counties continue to experience the pressure from a statewide sentencing-reform effort, known as Justice Reinvestment Initiative, that sought to keep lower-level offenders out of prison.
Counties say the reform effectively sent more criminals to their jails rather than prison, yet they need more state funding to deal with the increased pressure. Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who supported funding the updates to Oxbow, said she wasn't committed yet to expanding jails, given ongoing efforts to provide alternatives to incarceration.
Councilman Jim Bradley said he agreed that adding jail space was a must, and he called it a "$100 million fix."
"We can play this game for another 20 years if we want," he said. "Unless we come up with substantial money, it's not going away."