Group narrows financing, architect options for jail

An advisory group, appointed to study and recommend a plan addressing the current jail facility, decided on a financing option and narrowed the architectural firms down to two at its Oct. 13 meeting 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 recommendation 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, 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 group?s chairman, will be submitting a letter to the commissioners about the proposals, which received unanimous approval by members. But one member said they 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 worded incorrectly as a ?fee? rather than ?tax.?

According to Michael Smith, assistant attorney general, the court 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.

Prior to making recommendations on an architect and financing, the advisory group did look at transferring prisoners out of Marion County to other nearby facilities.

Sheriff Rob Craft provided estimates of what it would cost on a yearly basis to transfer prisoners out-of-county, but it did not include the cost of a required holding facility.

?The holding facility,? he said, ?would be needed for court appearances, daily arrests, court commitments and prisoners brought in who would be on a short-term bond locally.?

Using Chase County jail as the transfer facility, Craft estimated housing at $40 per day with an average of 12 prisoners or $175,200 annually.

In addition, the county would need at least two new vans, rotated out every three to four years, equipped chair lift and more to make it ADA compliant, along with chair locks, cages, chains, siren, radio and other safety features.

?Other costs would include gas, vehicle maintenance, medical and more for a total of $310,000.

Using the $310,000 annually as a conservative estimate, one member said that in 15 years, the county will have paid more than $4.6 million, which would more than cover the cost of a new facility.

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, he said.

The committee members include Gene Pearson of Burns; Danny Flynn, JoAnn Knak, Randy Hagen, Dan Kinning and Mike Kleiber of Hillsboro; Dan Peugh of Peabody; Don Kraus, Burton Tidwell, Karen Wheeler and Ed Wheeler of Marion; Bryan Har?per and Greg Winn of Florence; Barbara Britton of Goessel.

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