I am a resident of and mayoral candidate for the City of Columbia Falls, who strongly opposes siting the Flathead County Jail at the city’s doorstep. I want to cite several reasons why this decision impacts not only Columbia Falls, but the surrounding counties, as well.
1) Glacier Gateway Elementary School, two senior housing facilities with units for the disabled, and three residential areas are located less than one-half mile from the site.
2) Although jailbreaks are rare, the reality is they do happen, that would put students, staff, seniors, and residents in harm’s way.
3) County Administrator Mike Pence commented, “Its large amount of acreage that could accommodate present and future needs.” Translation, in addition to the County’s 160 inmates, to help offset costs, it will accept a fee per inmate for felons from other county jails facing overcrowding.
4) When the inmate completes his/her sentence they will be released in Columbia Falls. No employer will be waiting to hire them, limited funds, and few options they will circulate throughout the county.
5) Another cost is fuel to transport prisoners 13 miles to or from the County Courthouse or to either one of our local medical facilities.
6) The County Commission will use the argument the Detention Center will provide jobs. Other than temporary construction jobs, few new permanent jobs will be created; most will be existing jobs transferred from the County Jail to the Columbia Falls Detention Center.
7) The site is prime industrial property with rail access. It will be developed creating hundreds of high-paying jobs for county residents, new tax revenue for Flathead County and new payroll taxes for the State of Montana.
I propose siting the detention center in south Kalispell on farmland adjacent to the US 93 Alternative that will not be surrounded by schools, senior housing and residential areas.
1) Costs to purchase 24 acres of farmland with an access road from the Alternative to the South Kalispell Detention Center is considerably less than the $2.6 million for the Columbia Falls site.
2) Reduced costs for land, building, construction, and money saved by the county over the past several years toward a new jail eliminates the need for a mill levy increase. In addition, being one or two miles from the courthouse will dramatically reduce prisoner transportation costs.
3) The South Kalispell Detention Center can contain a jailbreak using the resources of the County Sheriff’s Department, Kalispell Police and Montana State Patrol.
John H. Rallis