Taft city officials moved Wednesday to reach a deal with the state to house inmates at its correctional facility following an eleventh-hour decision by Los Angeles County supervisors to reconsider a $55 million contract with the city.
Despite having worked together for more than a year to transfer 512 prisoners to the Taft Community Correctional Facility beginning in December -- and having a contract -- the supervisors deferred a final vote until their meeting next Tuesday.
The glitch came when Supervisor Gloria Molina withdrew her support after saying she only recently had learned of Taft's ongoing litigation with the state over the facility's closing in October 2011.
Through a spokeswoman Wednesday, the supervisor said the litigation was "an impediment" to any agreement.
Since the board's original approval passed last month by a 3-2 vote, the loss of Molina's support likely dooms the deal.
Taft officials expressed frustration Wednesday but they weren't mourning.
Instead, Mayor Paul Linder said the city would begin talks immediately with the Californian Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to house its overflow inmates.
The state's inmates would be medium-security prisoners, requiring Taft to add various security measures at the correctional facility. Linder said those up-front costs, estimated to be as high as $1 million, would have to be negotiated with the state.
He said the state would likely pay a per diem rate of $60 per inmate, making a contract worth about $11 million per year, the same amount as the expected deal with L.A. County.
And Linder said the state has expressed interest in increasing the number of beds in the facility by as many as 50.
"The state has pretty much told us they've got a contract waiting for us," he said.
A spokeswoman with the CDCR Wednesday would only say that it "is interested in the beds at the Taft Community Correctional Facility."
Through her spokeswoman, supervisor Molina claimed that "she had been kind of kept in the dark" about the litigation between Taft and the state of California and the CDCR, and that "it was the responsibility of the Los Angeles County counsel" to have informed supervisors.
But the suit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in August 2012, and media stories about it were published beginning in September that year. Additionally, both Linder and Craig Jones, Taft's city manager, said the city never hid the suit's existence from supervisors.
In fact, Linder said CDCR officials told him that any contract to house inmates is a separate issue from the lawsuit. A CDCR spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation.
In the suit, the city claims the state's closure left Taft more than $1 million in debt from paying unemployment and vacation payouts the state was obligated contractually to pay. The city also contends that the state's closure of the facility terminated its right to lease the CCF for $1 a year after 2017.
The case is set for trial in January.
The reopening of the Taft correctional facility would be Kern County's third such agreement, following contracts between the CDCR and the cities of Shafter and McFarland for state inmates. The state is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity.