Jail discussion continues at Marion, Peabody

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JailPabodyMtgPA230029.jpg

County officials and consultants entertain questions from the public during the public meeting last Thursday regarding the jail porposal.

Tired of seeing money leaving Marion County, the commissioners believe one way to recoup some of that money is by building a new $8.65 million jail complex using a one-cent sales tax and bringing in prisoners from other counties to pay its operating costs.

The commissioners, Tony Rangel and Aaron Smith, both with Law/Kingdon Architecture in Wichita were in Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody last week for the second round of jail talks.

Not only would a new jail meet state and federal guidelines, Commissioner Dan Holub said, but the larger facility would provide an outlet for other counties to house their prisoners here.

?We have looked at a lot of options,? said Dan Holub at Tuesday?s second round of meetings held in Marion on Tuesday, ?and this is an opportunity for us.?

Commissioner Randy Dallke agreed, adding that something has to be done.

?We?re always having money going out (of the county),? Dallke told the 35 people attending Tuesday?s meeting in Marion. ?This is a chance to have it (money) back, but there are no guarantees.?

Either way, all three commissioners agree building a jail is a gamble, but they believe the proposal is the best option right now.

Rangel reviewed many of the questions asked at the first round of talks, ranging from comparisons with Sumner County and its sales tax for a three-year period from 2005-07.

Rangel said even with declining populations in both Marion and Sumner counties, the sales tax continued to increase.

Cost to build vs. expenses

Responding to a question, Rangel said the cost to transport a prisoner out of the county for one year would be $47,660.

?This assumes the pay for one officer, one vehicle transporting the prisoner and one prisoner,? he said.

For a 30-year period and to transport seven prisoners, the cost would be $8,887,090, he said.

As for housing prisoners in Marion County, Rangel said that potential revenue from renting beds would be $34 a day with possible annual revenue at $12,410 per bed.

?The potential revenue for the new facility would then be between $719,780 and $819,060 annually,? he said.

Should the facility stay full (at 77 beds) and sustain it each year, the estimated annual operating cost would be between $612,047 and $672,047. If the facility stayed at 75 percent capacity (or 58 beds), the operating cost would be $528,738 to $587,738.

Either way, Rangel said the facility would be pay for itself using the one-percent sales tax to build it and bringing prisoners in would pay the operating costs for the 26,609-square-foot facility.

At both the Marion and Peabody meetings, many questioned whether the jail could continue to be at even 75 percent capacity for a prolonged period.

?I think it would be hard to keep it (the jail) plum full,? said Chuck McLinden of Marion. ?I think it is questionable if this thing would make any money.?

Another man was concerned about the proximity of the proposed jail to his home, which is only 300 feet away.

?What would happen if two inmates escaped?? he asked.

?Voters will need to decide on this,? Holub said. ?We have looked at a lot of stuff and this is what we came up with.?

?How long would it take to do another proposal?? one person at the Marion meeting asked.

?We would have to go back to the drawing board,? Dallke said. ?I have heard a lot of good ideas and we need to do something.?

If the jail proposal fails, he said, he hoped all the people attending the meetings would come back and help the county come up with something for all Marion County residents.

Don Kraus affirmed the commissioners for their efforts. As a former school board member, Kraus said he knew what it?s like to propose ideas and then when that idea is on the ballot, people become critical.

?I think we need to get an independent study and work as a county on this,? he said, ?but now is not the time to do it (build a new jail).?

Peabody meeting

Public input continued to escalate by the time the commissioners and architect met for the final meeting Thursday, Oct. 23, in Peabody.

Dallke reiterated on behalf of himself and the other commissioners that this is ?an opportunity for Marion County.?

He said there are problems with the old jail and the county is looking at ways to offset costs.

?We are woefully lacking in (jail) staff,? he said. ?We are not looking at a money-maker.?

Many people asked about the amount other counties charge at their jails.

One individual said it?s becoming a bidding war, citing Butler County?s jail going down to $30 a prisoner and thus taking 13 prisoners away from Rice County?s jail, which was charging $34 a day.

?For $4 a day, it?s becoming a bidding war,? one man said.

Aaron Allen, who is running against Dallke in the commissioner?s race, said he has attended most of the meetings and has seen the numbers keep changing (referring to Rangel?s PowerPoint presentation).

?There are no guarantees a single prisoner will come to this new jail?? asked a Florence council member. ?I don?t mind spending money, but we have no guarantees.?

The commissioners said that if the jail initiative fails, it will still mean a mill-levy increase.

?We need to hire seven new officers right away,? Holub said. ?Our jail doesn?t meet standards (for recreation areas, classification options and segregation).?

In addition, it?s a safety risk and lacks adequate security, communications, fire protection and emergency systems.

Voters will decide on the jail proposal Tuesday, Nov. 4.

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