County aims to get new jail funding on November ballot

Voters in Marion County will determine the fate of bond financing for a new Marion County law enforcement facility on the November election ballot?if the Board of Commis?sioners is able to proceed quickly enough on the decision it made Monday.

The commissioners decided to proceed with plans for a 72-bed corrections facility costing about $7 million, reaching that decision after a one-hour discussion that it would be most economically feasible over other plans it had considered over previous months.

Commissioners hope to use sales tax instead of property tax as the basis for the funding the project, with a quick payoff from housing pay-for-stay prisoners from other jurisdictions.

They said their considerations are accelerated by a growing prisoner population with higher security concerns at the Marion County Jail.

Commissioner Dan Holub said seven prisoners currently at the jail have been convicted for child molestation and may have a higher propensity for violence than ?the old-time typical DUI prisoners.?

Margaret Wilson, a Marion resident who attended the meeting, urged the commissioners to give more tours through the jail at the next public meeting.

She said at a former tour, ?I was aghast? when she realized how easily a large person could extend arms through the jail bars to reach the dispatchers who check the prisoners at night.

Steve Smith, Emergency Medical Services director, said EMTs are handicapped by tight space and security issues when they have to respond to a prisoner?s medical needs.

?It can take four people to maneuver someone down those stairs on a spinal board,? he said.

That?s especially hard, he added, if some of the people recruited to help are female communications personnel.

The commissioners said they expect to be required to install an elevator at some point.

To give prisoners required outside exercise time, Holub said they are handcuffed together on the courthouse lawn with a guard armed only with a taser to prevent prisoners wrestling him down to get a gun.

Commission Chairman Bob Hein said Sumner County used a 1 cent sales tax to fund its pay-for-stay jail.

Holub said, with the pay of housing out-of-county prisoners, Sumner County is expected to pay off their corrections facility in only three years of operation.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said Marion County will be allowed to go up to a 1.5 cent sales tax, but so far discussions indicated it might be done with as little as a 1/4 cent increase.

Hein said the commission will have to proceed quickly with bond counsel and architect planning to move in time for public meetings and arranging the election.

Arrangements also will have to be completed quickly with the City of Marion for a building site in the Batt Industrial Park, he said.

Holub outlined four choices the commissioners have in the matter, to which the other commissioners agreed.

He said choice No. 1 would be the 72-bed facility that would offer enough capacity to offset costs without long reliance on taxes.

He said he hoped Marion County could get prisoners from area counties, including Morris, where two attempts at jail bond financing have failed public votes, and Sedgwick, with its large population.

He also would hope for contracts for state and federal prisoners, noting that the state prison at El Dorado is full.

The second choice for the commissioners would be a 30- to 40-bed facility costing about $6 million. But Holub said that option wouldn?t be viable, generating enough to help with costs but not offsetting taxes.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said her records showed that an estimate to build a more moderate-sized facility on the courthouse grounds came in at $6,372,848.

The third choice, Holub said, would be to remodel the current jail according to state requirements at a cost of about $5 million. That option would leave the county needing to find a place somewhere else for its 911 communications center.

The fourth choice, Holub said, would be to do nothing ?but keep paying and paying and paying? as more state directives come in, and the county has to keep transporting prisoners to the corrections center at Cotton?wood Falls.

The commissioners said the current rate the county pays for excess prisoners is about $35 per day. The county would receive that amount if the pay-for-stay facility was owned by Marion County.

They said that price appears tobe the going rate because attempts by other pay-to-stays to charge $40 have resulted in loss of clientele.

Holub said jails often are allowed to house prisoners to capacities of 110 to 120 percent as facilities fill up around the state.

He said that under the fourth option, as the county continues to be squeezed by the cost of officers and cars transporting prisoners to other facilities, the county would have to refuse to transport prisoners for cities in the county.

The cities would have to do that for themselves, Holub said.

Dallke said a jail staff of about 12 persons would cost $500,000 to $600,000 annually, plus benefits.

Dallke said the building estimates were made with the City of Marion donating the land, but the county assuming costs for utilities and sewer development, which might add in increments of $100,000 to the cost.

Dallke said the commissioners would also need to set up a public building commission to oversee construction of the project.

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Individuality: Pathway to achievement
The strength of the United States of America is largely based in...
Read More