Colusa County Grand Jury releases 2018 report

Last week, the Colusa County Grand Jury released the findings of five investigations it conducted over the past year. For the most part, the grand jury’s findings were positive, and many of the recommendations it made encouraged the various agencies it looked into to continue with the status quo.

None of the five investigations included in the publicly released report were initiated by citizen complaints.

This year, the jury looked into operations at the Williams Cemetery District, inspected the current Colusa County Jail facility, inquired into the county’s new jail construction project, inspected the Tri-County Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility and the Maxine Singer Youth Guidance Center, and looked into the operation of Colusa County Animal Control Services.

Williams Cemetery District

The grand jury’s Special Districts Committee chose to review the Williams Cemetery District as numerous improvements have been made in the past 10 years (since the Grand Jury last reviewed the district), including the construction of a new storage/office facility with solar panels, in addition to various other improvements on the cemetery grounds.

The jury’s five-member Special Districts Committee interviewed one person, took a walking tour of the facility, and obtained official records from the Williams Cemetery District, the Colusa County Clerk/Recorder, and the Colusa County Auditor’s Office.

The jury found that, at the time of their visit on Jan. 29, the district had not updated and filed their “Statement of Facts, Roster of Public Agencies” with the Secretary of State and the County Clerk for a number of years. One of their recommendations was that the district do so, as required.

After their visit, the jury was advised by the Secretary of State’s Office that an updated statement was filed on March 30.

The jury reiterated the findings of the 2007-2008 grand jury report, stating that the district “is well managed and efficiently run,” and had been fiscally responsible with their funds, and recommended that it continue to develop and strategically implement plans to hold down labor-intensive maintenance, continue to develop cost-effective strategies for improvements, and continue to develop public donor sponsorships to attain their goals.

Jail Inspection

The jury toured the jail facility, built in 1962, and the court holding facility at the Colusa County Superior Court Annex. Members also interviewed the sheriff, administrative staff, and line personnel who work at the jail, as well as a male and female inmate concerning jail conditions. The jury also reviewed jail inspections conducted by other agencies, including the Board of State and Community Corrections, and by the U.S. Marshals Service, in addition to researching on data concerning jail services (including contracted services), looking at fire, health, and safety inspection reports, reviewing past grand jury reports, and conducting research on the internet. The jury reiterated the past concerns over Colusa County’s outdated jail facility, specifically with security risks associated with the linear design of the old jail, “necessitates frequent contact with prisoners during periods of inmate control and movement.” It also described the facility as “disjointed and inefficient” as a result of its being remodeled several times over the years.

Despite the dated design of the facility, which “does not allow for continuous observation of inmate living areas” as recommended by the American Correctional Association, the jury found that the Colusa County Jail continues to “function adequately” in its current state. The jury recommended that the county continue with its existing plans of constructing a new, modern jail facility that incorporates up-to-date safety and inmate management features.

Detention & Treatment Facility Project

The report noted that past grand jury reports had noted signs of deterioration in the aging jail facility, and the need for a new facility built to an updated design, and that last year’s grand jury noted that a new facility was in the planning stages, with a projected completion of 2020. The jury, in its role as a public watchdog, decided to look into the new jail facility project this year “to inform the public of the project’s progress, and to note areas of critical concern” for the $20 million public works project, which will consist of a stand-alone, two-story detention and treatment facility on about 0.7 acres of county-owned land, adjacent to the existing jail.

The jury obtained information regarding the jail construction and financing through research and interviews with key parties, including the Sheriff, the jail commander, the construction consultant, and the county administrative officer.

Ultimately, the jury found that there are still too many variables in the construction process, making it difficult to give the project a definitive completion date, that major public works projects such as this take several years from conception to completion, and that unforeseen delays in the project are a concern to county staff, and could potentially add to construction costs.

The jury recommended that the county, through the Board of Supervisors and various county departments, continue with the new jail and treatment facility project, which “is critically needed and will serve the county well in the coming decades.” The jury also recommended that future grand juries continue monitoring the project prior to its completion “as it involves significant expenditures of pubic funds and is a critically needed improvement.”

Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility and Youth Guidance Center

The grand jury inspected both facilities on Nov. 28, 2017, which are both located in Marysville. The facilities are the primary sites Colusa County uses to house its juvenile offenders, as the county does not have its own juvenile detention center. The facilities are funded through a Joint Powers Agreement between Sutter, Yuba, and Colusa Counties. The Colusa County Grand Jury last inspected the facilities in 2014.

The jury spoke with administration, supervisors, staff and juvenile offenders, supervisors, and staff during the scheduled site visit. They used a jail inspection form and questionnaire prepared by the California Grand Jurors’ Association to guide their inspection, and obtained a list of programs offered at the facilities following their visit.

The jury found that the two facilities provide a critical service to the citizens of Colusa County and beyond, and that they are dedicated to the health and safety of the incarcerated youths, staff, citizens, and counties they serve.

“The staff offers the youth skills and experiences beneficial in developing into productive members of society,” the jury wrote.

“Though the grounds and buildings at the Tri-County Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility are clean, tidy, and free of graffiti, the facility is aging,” the report said. “A pressing need to update the facility was observed. Senate Bill 81 is providing monies for the construction of a new juvenile hall facility. The new facility is in the planning stages and is under the guidance of a construction management firm.”

The jury recommended that the Joint Powers Agency continue working toward the completion of the new juvenile hall facility, which they said construction planners hope to complete in 2020.

Animal Control Services

The jury, in checking in on the department “to… see if there are areas of concern or needs for improvement that are important to the public,” learned that the Colusa County Animal Control has immediate needs that have not yet been funded, as well as a long term need of a larger, more capable animal housing facility. They called on the county to purchase new animal shelter management software, as well as new service vehicles specifically designed for animal control services, in the next budget cycle.

Jury members interviewed Animal Control staff, toured Animal Control’s facility, reviewed the department’s current and past budgets, reviewed data concerning calls for service and dog licensing and other documents, including contracts for services with the cities of Colusa and Williams, veterinary services, and documents connected with the non-profit organization that helps support the shelter.

The biggest concern the jury had with the Animal Control facility was the building’s roof, which was old and frequently leaked, which led to wet animal pens and required spot repairs in rainy months. The old roof led to further damage when leaking water got into electrical leads. The electrical damage required significant electrical repairs. A new roof was installed several months after the grand jury toured the facility.

The jury also learned that Animal Control staff had concerns for their own safety, and the safety of animals, related to the service vehicles – two pickup trucks equipped with in-bed, non-insulated metal cages – that are currently in use.

“The trucks are very basic, with no lift devices to get heavier animals into the truck,” the report said. “The animals must be manually lifted to pickup bed height. An ongoing concern was expressed by employees that having to manually lift animals into the truck exposes the employees to lifting related injuries. Another concern is that during hot weather periods, the animals are being held in a metal box without forced air or cooled ventilation.”
The jury added that while water is kept on board the trucks, overheating was a concern, and that when out during hot weather days, on calls for service in distant areas of the county like Arbuckle or Stonyford, the animal control officers “most promptly return to the shelter with a captured animal instead of remaining on patrol in their service area,” and said that other counties use specialized trucks with power lifts and larger, air conditioned cages, allowing them to hold several animals at once in hot weather.

The jury noted that Animal Control is responsible for dog licensing in the county, and that their current license/vaccination record keeping system is labor intensive and antiquated.
“There is commercially available software for animal shelter management, including license and vaccination tracking,” the report said. “The software was requested in the 2017-18 budget but the funding was denied.”

Through their interviews, the grand jury said it was made apparent that the non-profit Friends of the Colusa County Animal Shelter (FOCCAS) was an essential element in keeping Animal Control an effective agency, and that “without volunteer hours and the non-profit’s funding for food and veterinary drugs, the taxpayer’s bill for funding animal control would be much higher.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net