More than $8 million was committed to the design and management of the North County Jail project Tuesday, a clear signal that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will continue making the development a priority.

The supervisors voted 5-0 to approve spending about $8.2 million to move the project forward by hiring a project expert, architect and engineer, construction manager and contractor on payroll.

Some contract language was changed before the vote, as well as an addendum guaranteeing that the supervisors would see a cost-analysis for why a contractor on payroll was necessary for the $96 million project.

The 376-bed jail, which would be built on 50 acres outside Santa Maria on Black and Betteravia roads, could be completed as early as May 2018.

Most of the funding — $89 million — will come from the state, with the county footing the rest.

On Tuesday, the county supervisors hired Liebert & Associates Inc. as the project expert, to be paid no more than $426,385 over six years; Rosser International Inc. as architect and engineer, to be paid about $5.4 million over six years; and Kitchell/CEM, Inc. as construction manager, to be paid no more than $2.27 million over six years.

The board also approved a final environmental impact report for the project.

All officials — except Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf — expressed concern about providing benefits to a temporary contractor on payroll, who will be paid $133,575 over two years beginning later this month.

“I just hate paying somebody’s vacation and days off when that person isn’t even an employee,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said. “I just really don’t like the practice.”

County CEO Chandra Wallar said the employee in question, who already works part time in the General Services Department, would be necessary because the high-risk nature of the jail project — one of the largest the county has ever seen.

Wallar reminded the supervisors that all contracts awarded would be within budget, and that the county has many other contractors on payroll.

Other topics of discussion included examining renewable energy sources for the facility, such as solar, and testing to determine whether the jail could use water from a well already on the property.

Most of the supervisors said they’d like stronger language to require construction contracts go to local residents to bring much-needed jobs to the North County, and Wolf noted it would’ve been better to have seen these million-dollar contracts before late last week.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam took time to make sure fellow officials understood the reason for the project.

“We’re not building a new jail because we need a work project in the North County,” Adam said, adding a desire to stay within budget regardless. “We’re building a new jail because we have prisoners that we have had to release. We’re building something that’s safe for the prisoners and safe for the deputies. Local labor is important but we need to get this job done.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.