Jail Committee organizes, focuses issues

Election of officers, funding sources, jail size, department size and other questions or concerns were discussed at the second meeting of the Marion County Jail Project Committee Thursday.

Danny Flynn of Hillsboro, one of three alternates, was named chairperson for the group. Harry Bennett of Marion was named co-chair.

The biggest questions for the committee, according to concensus, is funding sources and number of beds, vehicles and staff needed to operate a jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One committee member suggested the jail be similar in funding as what residents are doing now with the transfer station, which pays for hauling the county?s solid waste to an approved landfill site.

This method of funding is done per household.

Using a baseline of $120 ($10 per month), the idea would be that each of the 5,900 resident homes on the tax rolls could pay for a total yearly collection of $660,000.

Under the ?sundown clause,? the financial burden would end in less than 10 years.

?This would be no operational costs, just building,? one member said.

This would solve the sales-tax concerns that resulted in the jail project failing to meet the voter?s approval in November.

?What kind of facility does the state say we have to have?? one member asked. ?A 10-person jail might cost $1.5 million, but what about a 20-person, 30-person??

Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft, who is not a committee member, said he believes a 30-bed jail would suffice for the next 20 to 30 years based on inmate growth.

?In harder economic times, the jail population goes up,? he said.

The committee also discussed the types of prisoners and why a 30- to 35-bed facility would be necessary. Women make up one type; out-of-control another; medical conditions and general.

?To run a 35-bed jail,? Craft said, ?the bare minimum would be nine personnel, and that?s if none of them take sick leave or vacation.?

Adding more staff would be a decision of the commissioners, Craft said, and that could mean raising the mill levy for all Marion County residents.

But this remains one of many options the group is exploring.

Committee members wanted hard numbers on what it would take to operate a jail that size.

?We would also like a copy of the county budget,? one member said, ?to review the line item amounts for the current jail, personnel.?

Craft said the sheriff?s office, emergency management, 911 dispatch and jail are melded together, but he would look into breaking it out or finding someone to help in that process.

The group agreed it needed to decide soon what the county wants.

?Are we looking at shutting down our jail and transferring prisoners to Chase County?? asked one member.

Another member asked what type of planning was done the first time around. It was noted that Marion County commissioners and former Sheriff Lee Becker visited other facilities.

Of the jails toured, Craft said the Chase County jail had a good central control built in a circular design.

?The county, by state law, must maintain a jail,? Craft said. ?One option would be to transport to another location.?

One committee member said the Marion facility should house 911 emergency dispatch, emergency preparedness, the sheriff and the jail.

?We are looking at a jail project,? she said. ?A law-enforcement center.?

Another member said the county only needs a facility for 911, and questioned the need for a new jail.

Recalling jail meetings from the first time around, one member said it would cost more than $3 million to bring the current 11-bed facility up-to-date.

?Rather than reinvent the wheel,? another member said, ?why not review what the commissioners already researched.?

Craft said he would prefer emergency dispatch be part of the jail facility.

?Let?s not abandon all the other options,? a member said. ?I have concern about the personnel rather than prisoners, but we shouldn?t get boxed in before we are even out of the gate.?

The committee may also look at breaking out into sub-committees reviewing specific options or pitfalls associated with the various ideas.

At the next meeting, set for Tuesday, May 19, the committee will look at the current budget; the amount of money needed for a law-enforcement complex (jail, 911 dispatch, etcetera); the size options for a jail; proposals on paying for extra staff; more funding options and emergency management needs.

The committee also wants to know why a prisoner can stay in the county jail for up to two years or more.

For questions or input regarding the jail committee, call Craft at 620-382-2144.

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