LAND O'LAKES — With the county's prisoner population continuing to swell, Sheriff's Office and Pasco County officials broke ground Friday on a massive new addition to the jail.
When completed next summer, the annex will stand three stories high, cover 96,000 square feet and house an additional 768 inmates, nearly doubling the jail's capacity.
"This is a long time coming," Sheriff Bob White said during Friday's ceremony. He said the jail routinely houses inmates well beyond its capacity, sometimes more than 30 percent above its 782 beds.
When the addition is completed, the county will be able to house 1,700 inmates, including those at the smaller complex in New Port Richey.
"That's going to be a very important step to keeping the people safe," White said.
The price tag on the addition started at about $6.8-million a few years ago, then shot up to $11.6-million because of rising construction costs and design problems.
Along the way, officials decided to make it three stories instead of two, bringing the current cost to $17-million.
In a year when talk of government spending is all about budget cuts, where is the money coming from?
Pasco budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said the County Commission has been socking away money in its capital improvement fund the past few years to pay for the jail addition.
"It's not something we normally come up with the funding (for) in one year," Nurrenbrock said.
But even with the funding in place to build the jail, recent property tax reforms are forcing local governments to trim ongoing operational costs.
At the jail, that could mean less money for staffing.
"We'll have to sit down with the sheriff when he submits his budget request and look at the number of staff … and the costs associated," Nurrenbrock said.
White told Friday's gathering the addition will require 88 new staffers, including deputies and nurses.
He said in an interview he hopes the expanded capacity will mean fewer inmates will be released on their own recognizance — and instead have to pay bail.
"We've had to perhaps be a little more aggressive about releasing people" because of overcrowding, White said.
By eliminating that problem, the sheriff said he hopes inmates will be forced to "make an investment in their freedom."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.