The Larimer County Commissioners voted to approve a $75 million expansion to the Larimer County Jail Tuesday. The project will add 250 beds, and include an overhaul of the facility’s design, as well as create more space for mental health and medical services.
“I want to see housing that is better for the inmates that are there and the officers that work there,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson. “I think this is a responsible plan, and I’m going to support it.”
Since 2010, Larimer County’s population has grown by about 50,000 people, which has led to more people filling the county’s jail. The inmate population peaked in 2017 with 623 inmates, but the average population hovers between 500 and 550, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Officials say the jail is full and can’t hold any more inmates.
During the meeting, residents raised their concerns about the renovations and addition. Many opponents of the expansion argued the county should do more to reduce the number of people jailed instead of adding on to the jail. Others were upset that the commissioners decided to fund the expansion without a public vote.
In the past, jail expansion proposals were voted on because there was also a proposed tax to fund the project. Those initiatives failed repeatedly.
“We can not use the ballot as our own personal polling every time we have a big decision,” Johnson said.
This time, the project will be funded by investors and the county will pay back those funds with interest over the next 15 years, said Carol Block, director of finance for Larimer County.
The county commissioners approved $8.5 million for the first phase of the jail expansion in the 2019 county budget in May. Leaders say the expansion will modernize the jail, which was originally built in the 1980s, in order to better accommodate inmates and staff alike.
“When we overcrowd people in the jail, which has happened for several years,” Johnson said, “It puts the folks there at risk. It puts the people who work there at risk, and I’m not willing to do that.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of beds that will be added to the Larimer County Jail. A previous version of the story had an incorrect bed number that was based on an earlier version of the county's expansion plan.