Advisory group gives final recommendations on new jail

The advisory group appointed to come up with proposals regarding the jail in Marion County gave its final recommendations to the commissioners Aug. 25 in Hillsboro.

After 16 months, the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee members unanimously agreed to disband, noting they had done what the commissioners had asked of them.

Reviewing what the group accomplished, Mike Kleiber, committee chairman, summarized the ideas discussed and accepted by a majority of members.

?We looked at the size of the jail,? he said, ?and the committee agreed a 26- to 30-bed facility would meet the county?s needs into the future with expansion, if necessary.

?We agreed on the selection of two architects that we believed were very capable of doing a project like this, and we had a financing package,? Kleiber said.

The committee also looked at layout, he said, to include 911 dispatch and the emergency management facility within the building.

?I think the No. 1 question has always been how do we finance the jail?? he said.

Recalling events that led up to the formation of the jail committee in April 2009, Kleiber said, many on the committee believed the reason voters rejected a 1-cent sales tax had a lot to do with the cost and size of the initial jail proposal.

Voters in November 2008 were asked to approve an almost $8 million dollar, 75-bed jail complex.

?It was a much more expensive project,? Kleiber said, ?than what the committee is recommending.?

A majority of the voters, he said, understood the need for a jail, but were not willing to pay for it with property or sales tax.

As a committee, Kleiber said, the group started asking what options were left, which led them to the decision of an alternative $10 per household tax.

Why an alternative tax?

The committee?s rationale toward an alternative tax recommendation seemed the most logical, based on previous meeting discussions.

The group agreed the tax was fair because everyone in the county would, at some point in their lives, need 911 or emergency management services, plus every county is required by statute to either house prisoners or have a system in place for holding/transferring them.

However, when the commissioners asked for an opinion from the Kansas Attorney General?s office, it was twice ruled unconstitutional.

Regarding the first option, Michael Smith, assistant to the AG, stated that assessing a residential fee would create classes being treated differently. Certain residential property owners would be assessed $10, while commercial and agricultural property owners would not.

The newer proposal would include 8,100 taxpayers?anyone receiving a tax statement?as opposed to 5,900 home owners in the county.

The county had hope that by spreading the fee in a more uniform manner, the state would approve it.

That option was discussed at the commission meeting Jan. 19, and included a telephone conference call with David Arteberry, senior vice-president with George K. Baum & Co. of Kansas City, who deals in tax-exempt bond issues and Jonathan Small, Topeka attorney.

In its latest decision earlier this month, the AG?s office said the method of assessing $10 in the way the commissioners presented it has never been tried either way in a Kansas court of law.

In a letter to the County Attorney Susan Robson, the AG?s opinion was basically that ?it might be legal or it might not.?

Prompted by this news, Kleiber told the committee last week that it seems the alternative tax is not a viable option anymore.

Consequences of imposing tax

Commissioner Randy Dallke explained to the committee that if the county went ahead and imposed this tax and a lawsuit was filed, taxpayers would still have to pay in some other way.

In addition, Arteberry called the commissioners and said if they were considering imposing the tax, they might want to rethink that option.

Arteberry said the county would probably not get money for the bonds based on the AG?s opinion.

Small, who has been the go-between for the county and AG?s office, said the county is on ?shaky ground? if they pursue that financing course of action.

One committee member said he had a hard time believing the $100 a year tax was now a dead issue.

Another member suggested talking with Rep. Bob Brookens of Marion and see if he could work with the rest of the legislators in making this type of tax legal.

After the committee voted to disband, the three commissioners who attended the meeting offered their thanks for the hard work everyone did.

As for the jail complex, the commissioners agreed they will need to review the group?s recommendations and decide what to do next.

Problems with a vote

One committee member said that he still sees problems with having the issue go to a vote.

?Even if taxpayers vote no, the county is still out of compliance and will cost $2 million or more to bring it back into compliance,? he said.

Spending $2 million will not give the county a jail complex either, he said.

?We will have a holding facility and will still need to transport prisoners to other locations.

?It will require a mill levy to haul prisoners and make the jail compliant.?

The other problem with taking the issue to a vote is that a ?no? vote on property or sales tax will not work.

When the committee first met, Holub explained the problem, which is the same problem today as it was 16 months earlier.

?Not having a jail is not an option,? he said. ?Even if we haul prisoners somewhere else, we still need a holding (facility) when people are arrested.?

Time for action

The commissioners also explained to committee members about the urgency to correct some problems recently reported to the Kansas Fire Marshal?s office.

Within the near future, Marion County will be asking the state what is expected from them regarding the future of the current jail building.

Some of the items already needed, according to Sheriff Rob Craft, include a sprinkler system and a 24-hour fire watch, which will require additional manpower.

?We have finalized our 2011 budget,? Dallke told the committee, ?and we even went back and cut some things out to have money in case (these added expenses) happen.

?We didn?t raise the mill levy to accommodate this,? he said.

Even if the county meets every step required by the fire marshal?s office with measurable success, one official said, it still looks like there is only a six-month waiver.

Prior to concluding the meeting, the group suggested the county begin checking into the legislative option regarding the alternative tax.

?If the commissioners want us to reconvene at some point, we will do that,? Kleiber said.

?We all feel your pain (on the jail issue),? he told the commissioners before closing the meeting.

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