Tuolumne County Sheriff Bill Pooley will seek permission on Tuesday to rent new facilities for his patrol, investigations, civil coroner, and evidence storage divisions, due to conditions at the current locations that he believes the public would find “appalling.”

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a five-year lease agreement with Sunrise Hills Building Plaza for a commercial building at 19890 Cedar Road in Sonora that would cost nearly $56,000 more in rent per year and about $110,250 to remodel.

“Nobody wants to pay rent, but it will get us through until we can build something permanent,” Pooley said, in reference to the proposed Sheriff’s Office facilities at the Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road that aren’t expected to be completed for at least four years.

Rent for the three buildings that currently house the divisions is about $67,780 a year combined, in addition to an average total of about $1,200 in annual repair costs. Pooley noted some of the contracts were originally signed 30 years ago and would likely be costlier today.

The patrol division is housed in a portable building on Elm Street, while evidence is stored in a rented building next door. The investigations division is located in a building owned by the City of Sonora at 400 N. Washington St.

All of the buildings have problems that make continued use untenable and hurt the Sheriff’s Offices productivity, efficiency and pose health risks for its staff, according to Pooley.

“It’s going to cost a little more for us, but realistically our staff can’t continue working in the buildings we’re in,” he said.

The patrol division first moved into the portable building on Elm Street in 1998, which Pooley said was intended to be a temporary situation for three years. Now, the floor is buckling, ceiling tiles sometimes fall out onto deputies’ heads, and there are water leaks causing mold.

Pooley said the building where evidence is stored lacks proper ventilation, fire suppression and a backup power generator. The lack of generator is particularly concerning to him because of evidence that needs to be stored in a climate-controlled environment, such as rape kits.

“Imagine if it was one of your family members in a rape or homicide case and we lost evidence because of our building,” he said. “That’s just unacceptable.”

The spread out nature of the current facilities have also led to issues with productivity and efficiency, particularly with the investigations division that’s a little over a half-mile away from the patrol and evidence buildings.

Pooley said the office’s administrative staff, which includes himself, will remain in its current county-owned building at 28 N. Lower Sunset Drive located next door to the jail.

Other options for relocating the divisions were explored, but all proved to be more costly than the one that’s being proposed.

“I think we found the best deal we could get,” Pooley said.

There was originally talk of moving them into the county-owned A.N. Francisco Building, which houses many of the county Community Resources Agency’s various divisions, but renovating the space alone would have cost an estimated $280,000.

The A.N. Francisco Building also lacked a place for evidence storage, and Pooley said it would have cost an additional $300,000 to $400,000 to renovate another county-owned building that was looked at for that purpose.

Pooley said the overall cost of temporarily repurposing the county buildings would exceed that of the remodeling and rent costs for the Cedar Road property, because the county would have to spend more money renovating them again after the sheriff’s divisions eventually move to a new facility at the Law and Justice Center as planned.

Moving into the county buildings would also disrupt other county services for an extended period of time, while Pooley estimates they could be moved into the Cedar Road property by July 1 with minimal disruption.

Pooley said they also looked at moving the divisions into a warehouse type building on Camage Avenue in East Sonora as well as large vacant commercial properties, but determined the cost for renovating them would be at least $200,000 and rent would range from 60 cents to $1 per square foot.

“The cost to do something like that outweighed the cost of putting it into a new office like the one we’re getting,” he said. “I think we’ve been very good in the way we studied this and have a good plan moving forward.”

County supervisors approved a plan with the current budget last summer to move county departments from rental facilities into county-owned buildings if feasible as a way to cut ongoing costs.

The Probation Department’s day-reporting center was relocated last year from a rented facility off Highway 49 to the third floor of the county-owned former Tuolumne General Hospital building, which previously housed the now-defunct Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority’s former InnovationLab project.

At a special meeting on March 22, the board directed staff to continue working on a plan for building new facilities for the Sheriff’s Office and other agencies involved with the county’s criminal justice system at the Law and Justice Center.

A $40 million county jail is under construction at the center and expected to open in winter 2020, in addition to a new $65 million courthouse being built by the state that’s anticipated to open in early 2021.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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