KALISPELL - Flathead County officials are continuing to seek a solution to the county's ongoing jail crisis after a proposal for a new jail in Columbia Falls has been rejected.
The Flathead Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted against the purchase of 24 acres of Weyerhaeuser property in Columbia Falls during a Tuesday morning meeting.
The County had been eying the property as a potential site to build a new 260-bed, 60,000 square-foot Flathead County Detention Center. An additional 35,000 square-foot building would have been converted into a new Sheriff's Office.
The Commissioners made the decision following a brief period of public comment where one person spoke out against the plan. The purchase and sale of the property had already been approved by the Commissioners who sought input from the community at two meetings last month.
Those who turned out for the meetings voiced their opinions about the safety of a jail near their homes, nearby trains causing lack of sleep for inmates and higher taxes.
Flathead County began a renewed push for a new jail after an anonymous donor gave a $1 million last May. Sheriff Chuck Curry says jail overcrowding is a pressing need in the county.
The current jail was built to house 63 inmates, but on most days the jail sees double what it is meant to hold. And that is frustrating for Sheriff Curry who says the lack of jail space is a public safety issue.
Thanks to the anonymous donation, Flathead County now has about $7 million to spend on the project, but Sheriff Curry says the biggest challenge is still funding.
County leaders say a new jail could run taxpayers up to $50 million dollars, and that is an issue that will have to be addressed by taxpayers. Flathead County Administrator Mike Pence says the issue will likely go to the voters with a bond.
The County has already expanded the current jail by 40-beds as part of a short-term effort to cope with the overcrowding issue.
The property that was rejected on Tuesday is located at 500 12th Avenue West in Columbia Falls.