In 2011, Ficano said the new jail would save taxpayers $20 million per year by closing and consolidating county jails. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Detroit— It will cost taxpayers $154.5 million for Wayne County to completely shut down and walk away from a failed jail project that is less than half finished with construction halted.
Wayne County commissioners on a jail task force were given documents Wednesday spelling out expenditures of more than $131 million with an additional $23 million in projected costs expected to finish closing up the halted project.
“There’s no dispute that something went terribly wrong to cause an originally projected cost to building a jail of $220 million to grow to a projected $391 million,” said Commissioner Kevin McNamara, D-Belleville. “The abandoned jail is only one-third complete. It’s anyone’s guess how many more price increases would have been encountered had construction continued.”
Commissioners expressed frustration over not being given all of the records they had requested, including earlier budget estimates that could be used to compare with the known and projected expenses. Cost overrun investigations have been stymied since Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy ordered an audit held pending her criminal investigation.
Worthy convened a one-person grand jury to investigate possible crimes related to the project — a project scrapped after costs soared from $300 million to an estimated $391 million.
“This task force would want to see the budgeted line next to the actual line,” said Commissioner Laura Cox, R-Livonia. “You have a project and you have no budget. It makes absolutely no sense to me.”
June Lee, chief of staff for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, said the information he could give is limited, given the investigation.
“This body is entitled to all of the answers,” he told the commissioners. “We can’t do that right now because of the broad nature of the protective order. The right thing right now is to focus on what we can do to move forward.”
Lee said it was a “timing issue” and the administration is willing to answer questions over the project once the grand jury limits are lifted.
Worthy’s investigation concerns “public official willful neglect of duty, conspiracy, fraud, misconduct, false statements relating to public finances and/or financial condition in Wayne County,” according to her petition for the judge’s order.
In August, two sources told The Detroit News the audit accused Ficano aides of intentionally misleading county commissioners about the true cost of the project, knowing since its inception it would cost more than $300 million. It also allegedly accused Ficano aides of designing the bidding process for general contractor to favor Detroit Walbridge.
Commissioners approved up to $300 million in bonds to build the jail and have bonded out $200 million.
The administration is exploring other options including using the remaining bond money to expand the existing jail, Lee said. That option include relocating the criminal justice operations to the state’s shuttered Mound Road facility. The revamped complex would require a jail housing 2,400-2,600 inmates and faces major rehabilitation to be viable. That option wasn’t considered a top option two years ago.
The Ficano administration has asked Worthy to recuse herself from an investigation of the jail because of a possible conflict of interest. The prosecutor is suing Ficano over her office’s budget.
The administration is working to sell the unfinished jail project to a private developer.
In 2011, Ficano said the new jail would save taxpayers $20 million per year by closing and consolidating county jails.