Commissioners explore scaled-down justice center plan

The Marion County Board of Commissioners, working with consultants Monday, began scaling back expectations for a new judicial and corrections center from an estimated $15 million project to under $10 million.

The corresponding sales tax increase needed to support bonds would be reduced from 1 percent to 0.5 percent.

The planners discussed the possibility of taking more time for planning and public education by moving election on a bond issue for the project from April to November.

The commissioners noted that one possible stumbling block to all planning could come Feb. 26, when the state fire marshall’s office is scheduled to inspect the existing county jail.

The state could require immediate upgrades, they said.

Architect Dan Hall of BG Consultants in Manhattan, with Sheriff Lee Becker at his side, was looking at taking the judicial center out of the plans, and leaving only the community corrections center.

Bond consultant David Arteberry joined the discussions by telephone.

Discussion most of the time centered on a proposal by Commissioner Bob Hein to scale back to about a $9.4 million project. Hein said public acceptance for the project would be nil if the project exceeded $10 million-and probably if it was right at $10 million.

Arteberry said annual bond payment for that size of a project would total about $820,000 which would be guaranteed through estimated yearly half-percent sales tax collections of $480,000 plus $340,000 from a 3.47-mill increase in property taxes.

“Over time, as sales tax revenue hopefully grows, the amount from property tax could be decreased,” Arteberry said. “The 20-year bonds could be paid off sooner from bed rentals (money paid by other counties or branches of government for Marion County to keep their prisoners).”

Commission chair Randy Dallke said the commissioners need to stay conscious of what is really better for the county. He noted that commissioners 20 years ago did remodeling at the jail that made sense as the cheaper solution then.

“They did a good job, but they delayed the real problems for us to solve in the future,” he said. “Let’s not do that to some future commission.”

At times, the commissioners discussed reducing the corrections center from 72 beds to 40 beds.

Commissioner Dan Holub said they had already had that discussion many times while studying the situation, and had found 72 beds an optimum size for Marion County to make money.

Holub said every indication has been that Marion County could fill 72 cells about as quickly as 40.

“There are no guarantees, but as a business you have to invest,” he said.

In an answer to Dallke, Hall said all facings of a corrections center would be simple concrete and nothing highly decorative since prisoners tend to be destructive of decor anyway. He would leave the design so that the jail portion could be expanded or the judicial center added later.

Holub said that anything left off to lower prices now probably will be more expensive when it is added back in later.

Arteberry said the commissioners could have the principal portion of bond payments lowered for the first two years of repayment period to allow more funding for “building operations.”

The commissioners also asked Hall to come up with some estimates on what it would take to upgrade the old jail as office space, or to continue as a dispatch center, or if it was required to meet state demands while it is still a jail.

Hall said meeting those demands could be very expensive because state and federal requirements could dictate installation of an elevator, handicap accessibility, and a new heating and air-conditioning system.

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