County Commission to take formal vote in July on funding the project
Just as he had indicated during the Sarasota County Commission’s May 17 budget workshop, Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, was back before the board on June 4, seeking authorization to proceed with upgrading the security system in the East Jail, which opened in 1987.
It took him only about 2 minutes to win gain that go-ahead.
The new equipment is “essential in ensuring officer safety and improving the detection and prevention of criminal activity,” Major Brian Meinberg, commander of the Courts and Corrections Division of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in a May 14 memo to Col. Kurt Hoffman, chief deputy of the Sheriff’s Office.
“The estimated cost of the project is $1,955,385,” Meinberg added in that memo.
However, a document Lowdermilk sent the commissioners in advance of the June 4 meeting estimated the total expense at $2.2 million. He indicated that funds would be borrowed to cover the cost; thus, the county will have to make debt service payments.
Meinberg’s memo explained that the East Jail houses more than 500 male inmates “of all classification levels, ranging from violent felons to non-violent misdemeanants, juveniles and adults, sentenced and unsentenced. The majority of inmates, staff, jail incident and disciplinary reports are all consequences of east wing operations,” Meinberg added, referring to the entire Detention Center, which has two other facilities, as well as the East Wing.
The proposed project, Meinberg continued, would upgrade all the cameras and gate controls and route the camera footage to one control center. The initiative first was discussed in September 2018, he noted.
“Most county jails have a ‘master control’ that provides monitoring to ensure safety and security of personnel and inmates, as well as overseeing all ingress and egress … throughout the facility,” he explained in the memo. “In Sarasota there are four [East Wing] control rooms,” he continued, and each must have a civilian specialist.
Installation of the system, he wrote, would allow the Sheriff’s Office to reduce the number of control room specialists from 23 to nine. “The eliminated positions have been reclassified to fill needed posts throughout the corrections bureaus,” Meinberg continued. That will enable the Sheriff’s Office to forgo hiring new full-time employees, as part of its budgeting process with the County Commission.
In fact, he noted, the reclassification of the control room specialists “to needed positions” in the Corrections Division would result in annual savings of $870,130 to the county.
Further, Meinberg wrote, a recent staffing analysis for the Corrections Division found that it would need 10 more deputies if the Sheriff’s Office maintained the current number of full-time positions in that division, given the need for personnel to be out for training purposes, vacation and sick and military leave.
Because of the shifts in personnel linked to installation of the new security system, he added, “we anticipate a significant reduction to overtime costs (conservatively estimated at $159,480) for a total savings of $1,029,610 annually.”
Among other facets of the project, Meinberg pointed out that 270 analog cameras would be replaced with high-definition, motion-detection cameras with internet access. “Most existing cameras were installed fifteen years ago,” Meinberg noted.
The contract also would include a three-year maintenance agreement, upgraded operating software and a storage system for the camera footage, Meinberg wrote.
All of the equipment that will be replaced is at its end of life or near that point, Lowdermilk explained to the commissioners during their regular meeting in Venice on June 4.
No vote was necessary that day, Lowdermilk continued, unless the board members did not want staff to continue working with the Sheriff’s Office on the initiative. If the commission supported the project, he added, then he would be back before the board in early July for formal votes on adding it to the county’s Capital Improvement Program and the borrowing of money for it.
Commissioner Nancy Detert responded that staff had met one-on-one with the board members to provide details about the proposal. “I would give direction that we move forward with this,” she said. Noting that the new system is keyless, she added that it would provide better security in the East Jail.
With no other comments from commissioners, Chair Charles Hines told Lowdermilk the board members would see him again in July.
The exact date planned is July 10, according to Lowdermilk’s memo to the board.