After crunching some numbers, Franklin County commissioners Wednesday unanimously decided to hire an in-house project manager to oversee their $21 million jail expansion.
Commissioners in recent weeks had discussed whether to assign management of the project to county Administrator Fred Bowen, or possibly hire an outside firm to oversee construction, but an analysis Bowen provided to the commissioners this week indicated that hiring a new county employee would be the most cost-effective option.
Bowen's analysis showed that hiring a private contractor at a rate of $105 to $125 per hour, plus expenses, would run the county $437,000 to $520,000 over the two-year construction period.
The salary cost for Bowen to take over the project -- leaving him little time for his other duties as county administrator -- would be about $277,000 over two years.
But hiring a full-time project manager who would work for the county would cost about $214,000 in salary and benefits for the two-year construction period.
"I believe my recommendation would be to do an in-house project manager," Bowen said. "I believe with an in-house project manager we would have the same caliber of oversight. The difference is he would work directly for the county instead of an outside agency."
Bowen said he based the cost estimate for an in-house manager on conversations with an experienced project manager who worked on the Coyote Ridge expansion in Connell and what salary he would want for the job.
"I have a person in mind," Bowen said.
Commission Chairman Brad Peck and Commissioner Rick Miller said while that person may end up being the right person for the job, they'd prefer to have the job advertised to see if any other qualified local people apply.
"How do we know there isn't a fully competent individual out there for $60,000?" Peck said.
He added that he thought the $84,000 base salary Bowen was proposing probably was fair pay for what would be a complex job, but was uncomfortable with setting the salary based on what one potential candidate said he wanted.
"That seems backward," Peck said.
Miller said a better option would be to advertise the job, collect resumes, then negotiate with the person the county wants to hire.
"I think to be ethical we need to open it up," Miller said.
Commissioner Bob Koch questioned whether anyone else would have the 30 years' experience as the candidate Bowen has in mind.
"It doesn't come about every day that you build a jail," Koch said. "I think the only person that has even come forward since this has been talked about is a consulting firm at half a million dollars."
But Peck and Miller said they want to have a fair hiring process that avoids the appearance of favoritism.
The expansion is planned to include six pods with space for 32 beds each, a new two-story building for the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, dispatch center, information services and Pasco Municipal Court, and a renovation of the old jail into a maximum security facility.
Construction is being funded by a 30-year, 0.3 percent sales tax increase voters approved in 2011.
Commissioners have said they want to request bids for the project by mid-December and start construction in early 2013.
The expansion is expected to be finished by the end of 2013 or early 2014.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com