Jail control room

Sgt. Carolyn Pluhar monitors doors and video cameras at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility in April.

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

Money Yellowstone County had planned to use to help pay for a proposed jail expansion that was rejected by voters will go instead into upgrading the aging jail’s electronic security system and remodeling the control room.

The county commission on Tuesday awarded the project to Diamond Construction Inc., of Billings, which was the lowest bidder among six contractors who submitted offers June 1.

Diamond’s total bid was $1.014 million, but the bid exceeded the projected budget of $740,000 by about $274,000.

Commissioners John Ostlund and Bill Kennedy approved Diamond’s bid and said the jail will use other county funds to make up the shortfall. Commissioner Jim Reno was away.

Jail Capt. Sam Bofto said Tuesday he wants to get started “as soon as possible” on the security system upgrade and control room remodel.

The new electronic security system will be integrated with computer systems and will control access for people entering, leaving and moving within the jail.

The project also will add cameras to housing units, hallways and to some holding cells, where a person might be “acting out” or on suicide watch, Bofto said. The jail already has some cameras, but more will be added.

The women’s unit is the only housing unit that has a camera, which was installed in case a male employee had to work there, Bofto said.

The 28-year-old jail is operating with its original security system. The jail has been maintaining the system, but replacement parts are tough to find, the commander said.

Finance Director Kevan Bryan said the sheriff’s department recommended using $100,000 from the drug forfeiture fund and $250,000 from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes fund to close the gap and to pay for additional architectural fees.

The county initially had budgeted the drug forfeiture and PILT amounts to help pay for a proposed $7 million jail expansion that would have added about 100 cells for female prisoners and paid for increased operational costs.

The expansion project, however, failed when voters on June 9 rejected a proposed six-mill levy that would have raised about $1.8 million annually in property taxes. The taxes would have helped repay a $3.5 million internal loan from the county’s capital improvement fund.

The levy also would have provided money for major maintenance and repairs on the building.

Opened in 1987, the jail has been through some expansions and now is built for 286 prisoners. However the average daily population runs between 450 and 500 inmates.

The women’s unit has 38 cells and is chronically overcrowded. The unit had as many as 90 female inmates recently, forcing some to sleep on the floor in plastic sleds.

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Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.