Jail proposal raises questions

BobHeinAlbertReimerP9309614.jpg
BobHeinAlbertReimerP9309614.jpg

Marion County Commission Chair Bob Hein (left) listens to the perspective of veteran Hillsboro businessman Albert Reimer prior to the jail meeting in Hillsboro on Tuesday.

In Hillsboro: Resistance to sales tax hike for jail

Marion County Commis?sion?ers met with some resistance from con?stitu??ents in Hillsboro on a proposed $8.5 million new jail complex during an informational meeting Tuesday designed to educate voters prior to the November election.

More than 75 people filled the Senior Center to hear from the three commissioners and Tony Rangel, Law/Kingdon Inc., representing the company handling the architectural-side of the project.

Rangel talked about the three-year process, starting in March 2005, which brought the commissioners to where they are today and why a new facility, funded by a 1-cent sales tax increase, is the county?s best option.

He also reviewed two other plans that were considered, but rejected for various reasons.

One of those proposals was a renovation/addition to the jail at a cost of $6.4 million, which would increase the number of beds from 11 to 68.

Another option was to remodel the jail, keeping the same number of beds and fixing some of the security and safety issues, at a cost of $3.2 million. In this scenario, the current 911/Emergency Medical Services office would be moved from the existing building into its own location onsite for $1.8 million. The cost for this option was estimated at $5 million.

The favored proposal, which is on the ballot in November, is for a new 26,200-square foot jail complex with 75 to 78 beds and on a new site with a new communication system at a cost of $8.5 million.

Rangel and commissioners said they believe this option would resolve all the current problems at the old jail by bringing it up to state and federal standards.

The new jail would address the growing prison population, which Rangel said is averaging almost one person a year. It would also meet building and fire codes?fire sprinkler systems, operational security system, proper radio equipment, panic buttons and more.

The new jail would have an elevator and meet American Disabilities Association accessibility requirements.

Even though the commissioners chose the new jail proposal over the other two options, all are not without additional expenses.

?There would be other associated costs with a new facility (and the other two options),? Rangel said.

Some expenses with the new facility included the need for more detention officers based on the additional beds; higher heating, cooling and maintenance costs due to the size of the facility and transfer costs (moving prisoners since the new site would be in the industrial area).

The first two options would also require moving prisoners to other counties while renovations are being done and, depending on where inmates are housed, would mean higher fuel costs.

Commissioner Dan Holub voiced his approval on the $8.5 million new facility, but some people weren?t as supportive.

?We only have two options,
Holub said. ?A mill levy on property tax or using sales tax.?

The commissioners and Rangel all said the sales tax increase would be a fair distribution.

?The sales tax would be a smaller impact on everyone as opposed to a significant mill levy,? Rangel said.

Although many attending the meeting agreed that something needs to be done with the old jail?most had concerns about the size of the facility, the amount being spent and using sales tax as the revenue source.

Michael Reeh, a local physician, suggested negotiating with neighboring counties about a joint jail facility.

Rangel said another county would not enter into a contract or commit anything before a building is in place.

?Other counties still need to make sure prisoners are safe and secure?those commissioners are still liable (no matter where their inmates are housed),? he said.

Another person asked what would happen if the voters said, ?no,? to the project.

Holub said that if voters say, ?no? to the new jail, the problem will not go away.

?We will still need to hire extra staff,? he said, ?and keep in mind it?s not just the jail. We have emergency dispatch.?

Holub cited staff would need to remain at their location in case of a tornado or other catastrophic events occurring. Currently, emergency personnel are in a building that has structural problems.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said that if the voters did not approve the sales-tax increase for the new jail, it would force them to go back to the drawing board.

Regardless of whether the sales increase passes or fails, there are still problems facing Marion County and its old jail. Rangel spoke about a catwalk that is narrow and too close to the actual jail cells; the area for booking prisoners, which is inadequate; the arrangement for transferring prisoners and more.

Rangel answered a question about why the facility couldn?t be smaller?for example, 25 beds as opposed to 78 beds. He said the size of the building would not affect the need for more staff.

Currently, the jail employs one full-time person and part-time employees on Saturday and Sunday.

With recent changes and mandates from the state, the number of employees will need be increased to seven to 10 people in security and dispatch areas.

As for changing the size of the building, Rangel will be bringing back more information within the next two weeks.

He also said he would look at some type of market analysis, prisoner averages over the past decade, and sizes of McPherson and Anderson county jails.

Sheriff Lee Becker said it?s been a struggle to find the best way to deal with the current issue at hand.

Many people, he said, are asking why we cannot get away with building a 20- to 30-bed jail. Becker said it?s about economics.

?It?s why we hired experts,? he said, but added that they aren?t paying for it.

?If you don?t want to vote for (the new jail), then don?t and be done with it,? he said.

If the vote fails, Becker said the old jail will still need to be rewired and renovated.

For now, though, Becker said he is not ashamed to put someone in the Marion County Jail.

At some point; however, changes will need to be made.

?We work for the building,? Becker said. ?We want the building to work for us.

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