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Sales tax hike may pay for new jail

Moving closer to placing sales tax question on ballot

Staff writer

Marion County voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject a one-half cent sales tax to build a new jail, sheriff’s department, and dispatch on April 5.

Marion County Commission will vote Monday whether to put the issue on the upcoming ballot after considering alternative financing methods. They had a phone conference with bond counsel David Artebury on Thursday and Tuesday, and he presented financing options for property tax, sales tax, and a combination of the two.

If paid entirely with property tax, a $4 million project with a 20-year bond would require a 2.782 mill increase in taxes, or approximately $22 more per year increase based on a home with an appraised value of $75,000. A 0.25 percent sales tax would require a 0.588 mill increase in property taxes.

A 0.5 percent sales tax would require no property tax to build the jail and would allow the county to pay the bonds in about 12 years. State statute won’t allow the county to set the sales tax rates at increments less than 0.25 percent for the project. A 0.5 percent sales tax amounts to 50 cents per $100 spent.

Sales tax financing requires a public election. Property tax financing would require the creation of a public building commission, which would require a 60-day petition period to force an election. The petition period would make a combination of sales and property tax complicated to put on the April 5 ballot, Artebury said Thursday.

Commission Chairman Roger Fleming and Commissioner Randy Dallke both said they would prefer financing with a combination of sales and property taxes if time weren’t a factor.

The commission selected Treanor Architects P.A. of Topeka as the architect for the project over HMN Architects Inc. of Overland Park. Treanor’s preliminary design included 36 beds with a maximum estimated cost of $4.2 million, and HMN’s design included 32 beds with a maximum estimated cost of $5 million. Neither estimate included land acquisition.

The firms were recommended to the commission by Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee, which disbanded after making the recommendations in August. The commission’s goal for cost is $3.5 million maximum, not including land acquisition.

Commissioners asked Treanor to change their design, moving dispatch to the main floor and eliminating the basement, to reduce the cost.

The design

Treanor’s preliminary design includes five distinct inmate pods. The minimum-security and medium-security male pods would each have capacity for 12 inmates. The maximum-security male pod would have room for four inmates with completely separate sleeping cells and a shared day room.

A maximum-security area is important because the county can have dangerous inmates, each for up to a year, Sheriff Rob Craft said.

“Everybody at state or federal penitentiary started at county jail,” he said.

The female pod would include room for four inmates. A work-release pod would have room for four inmates and be separated from the other pods to prevent contraband from circulating, architect Andrew Pitts said.

All of those pods, plus an exercise area, detox cell, and medical isolation cell, would be supervised from a central control room with line-of-sight to all of the cells. One-way mirrors in the pods would allow the jailer to see inmates but not allow the inmates to see people in the corridor or control room.

The secure portion of the building would also include kitchen and laundry facilities, a booking desk, office, breath test room, interview room, divided visitation room, evidence room, and two holding cells.

The sheriff’s department area would include a public lobby, an administration office, offices for the sheriff and undersheriff, a shared office for deputy sheriffs, restrooms, records storage, and a break room.

Both firms’ designs included dispatch in a partial basement, but the commission decided it wanted the entire building on a single level to save money. The dispatch area would include dispatch, an office, a training room and emergency operations center, and restroom.

The preliminary design meets American Correctional Association standards, because Kansas doesn’t have specific jail standards. That will more than satisfy the state fire marshal, commissioners were told.

“They will have no issues with this facility, I guarantee,” Pitts said.

Treanor recently completed work on a similar-sized facility in Brown County. Brown County had been in a situation similar to that of Marion County, with a jail that began as a sheriff’s house in the 1920s and was expanded in the 1970s, Pitts said.

Alternatives

If the county didn’t put the question on the April 5 ballot, the next countywide general election is November 2012. Officials said waiting that long, the county might risk the jail being shut down by the state fire marshal. Alternatively, the county could call a special election, but that would involve extra costs, and special elections generally attract more opponents than supporters, commissioners said in an earlier meeting.

If the fire marshal shut down the existing jail, the county would have to transport prisoners to other jails. Based on information he gathered in 2010, Craft estimated transporting inmates would cost $370,000 to $400,000 the first year and $340,000 to $350,000 each year after the first.

Craft based his estimates on an ideal situation: having an average of 10 inmates per day and sending them to Chase County. The reality would probably not be ideal, though. When he checked, the nearest jail that would have been able to take 10 inmates was in Pratt. Additionally, the county jail population is slowly increasing.

Even if the county transported inmates elsewhere, a holding cell would have to be maintained locally, and the operating cost of that wasn’t figured in Craft’s estimates.

Dallke said he worries about the safety of county personnel working in the existing jail.

“I don’t think a 1933 jail is adequate in a 2011 world,” he said.

A proposed 1 percent sales tax to build a 72-bed jail was rejected by Marion County voters in 2008 by a three-to-one margin.

County purchasing land

Commissioners announced plans to purchase five properties east of the courthouse Tuesday, but they said they don’t have definite plans for the land.

The area the county is purchasing starts at the northwest corner of the former lumberyard at 112 S. Fourth St., extends 210 feet east, and goes south to Moore Street. It does not include the former mattress factory building at the corner of Fourth and Moore streets.

The county has finalized the purchase of an empty lot from Sheila Williams for $3,250. Purchase of the former lumberyard and an adjacent house from Darvin and Sue Markley for $130,000, a house from Earl and Sally Peters for $18,000, and a house from Ed Baatrup for $1,000 plus back property taxes are still pending.

Baatrup and the Peterses did not attend the meeting Tuesday.

The Peters’ property is the only occupied building among the properties the county plans to purchase, Dallke said. The county will wait until June 1 to take possession of the property, to allow the current tenant an opportunity to find another home.

In other business:

  • Commissioners approved spending $32,000 to fix the 911 centerline map. The project will fix errors, make the map compatible with an upcoming software change, and improve map sharing with other departments.
  • Prairieland Partners of Marion will sell Road and Bridge Department five chainsaws and cases and a pole-mounted pruner for $2,895 to replace worn equipment. G & R Implement of Durham bid $3,102.
  • The county will donate up to $500 worth of gravel to a Lost Springs monument project west of the town.
  • Dallke requested a memo be sent to Road and Bridge Department employees instructing them to remove animal carcasses from the road when they find them while driving county vehicles. He made the request after seeing three county trucks drive past a dead skunk on Sunflower Road on his way to the commission meeting.
  • Communications Director Linda Klenda met with commissioners in closed session for five minutes to discuss personnel matters. No action was taken on return to open session.
  • Klenda and Sheriff Rob Craft met with commissioners in closed session for 10 minutes to discuss personnel. No action was taken on return to open session.
  • Markley Service of Marion will sell the Noxious Weed Department 384 ounces of metsulfuron methyl, 24 gallons of Milestone, one case of Sahara DG, five gallons of Krenite S, and 20 gallons of Garlan 4 herbicides for a total of $10,576. Ag Service of Hillsboro bid $11,347, and Cooperative Grain and Supply of Hillsboro bid $11,845.
  • Markley Service will sell the Noxious Weed Department 80 gallons of Tordon 22K, 48 gallons of triclopyr Remedy, and 30 gallons of Dicamba herbicides for a total of $6,979. Ag Service bid $7,495, and Cooperative Grain and Supply bid $7,400.
  • Cooperative Grain and Supply will sell the Noxious Weed Department 2,760 gallons of 2,4-D Amine and 360 gallons of 2,4-D Lo Vol herbicides for a total of $35,669. Markley Service bid $36,383, and Ag Service bid $36,659.
  • Commissioners approved voiding 963 checks that the county no longer uses.

The next commission meeting is Monday.

Last modified Feb. 24, 2011

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