County jail committee narrows options for funding and architect

The citizen advisory group appointed to study and recommend a plan addressing the current jail facility decided on a financing option and narrowed the architectural firms to two at its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 13) in Hillsboro.

?We do not have the authority to hire architects or determine alternative financing for a new facility, but the commissioners did want us to make recommendations,? said a member of the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee.

The committee?s recommended method for financing a new facility would be a special dwelling tax of $10 per month for 10 years or less. Although the county would need to assess property taxes to operate the facility, it would still be less in the long run.

?I don?t like to say it, but normally when property taxes go up for a specific reason, they rarely go away,? a member said. ?The special-assessment tax will go away.?

In addition, the committee is recommending either HMN Architects Inc. of Overland Park or Treanor Architects of Topeka to come up with drawings and costs for a 26- to 40-bed facility.

If the commissioners were to approve the recommendations, the committee would also want the architects to help them with town meetings, bonds and other related information.

When both architectural firms visited with the committee, each brought preliminary plans for a 32-bed facility and estimated the cost at about $4.2 million. The architects also came agreed to talk with the committee at no charge.

Danny Flynn, the committee?s chairman, will be submitting a letter to the commissioners about the proposals, which received unanimous approval by members. One member, though, said the committee do need some assurances from the commissioners.

?We need to know in writing that the proposed financing option we are recommending is legal,? a member said. ?If it won?t work, then many of us on the committee will have a problem with this.?

He was referring to the dwelling tax, which, when first presented to the Kansas Attorney General?s office, was characterized incorrectly as a ?fee? rather than ?tax.?

According to Michael Smith, assistant attorney general, the court has determined a tax is ?a forced contribution to raise revenue for the maintenance of governmental services offered to the public.?

A fee, on the other hand, ?is paid in exchange for a special service, benefit or privilege not automatically conferred upon the general public.?

Many committee members are also concerned about financing because most would not agree to a property-tax or sales tax-option to fund a new facility.

The committee initially sent out six letters to architects asking them to make presentations, but of those, only three firms responded.

More than six months ago, when the committee was first formed, the commissioners asked them to assess the community?s needs, review standards and legal requirements, develop a plan of action, determine if construction is an option, develop and evaluate alternatives to construction, develop a financial plan of action, explore funding options and finalize the master plan before June 2010.

If the commissioners agree with the recommendations, it will be their responsibility to negotiate architectural fees and field questions from the public.

Commissioner Dan Holub said the group?s ultimate aim is to come up with a plan and how to make it work. The commissioners would then be ultimately responsible for proceeding with those recommendations or not.

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