Commission will take 72-bed jail bond issue to ballot years ago

Staff reporter

Seeing it as an opportunity to offset expenses, Marion County Commission decided Monday to have a 72-bed jail facility bond issue on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election.

Concerns for the safety of employees and prisoners were foremost on the minds of the commission when determining the best option.

Narrow halls that jailers and dispatch personnel have to walk to check on prisoners make personnel within arm's length of the prisoners.

The overburdened jail with more serious offenders, lately the majority being child molesters, makes the stakes higher for those inmates to want to escape.

Before coming to their decision, the commission determined there were four viable options regarding the jail facility.

— A 72-bed facility could provide a revenue stream by housing out-of-county or federal criminals. The approximate cost of the facility would be $7 million. This plan included an area for a dispatch center.

— A 30-40-bed facility wouldn't be able to support itself with a price tag of $6 million but could house dispatch.

— The current jail could be remodeled for $5 million which would require the size of the jail being reduced from 11 beds to eight plus hiring more staff because of the layout of the jail. Dispatch issues could be addressed at an additional cost with another building being constructed.

— Do nothing. This option would require the county to use the current jail facility as temporary holding before transporting prisoners to another facility. This "do nothing" option still would not address dispatch concerns and will cost the county at a possible rate of $30-$35 per day per prisoner plus transportation and deputies' time.

"Even if we do nothing, we still have to maintain a jail. We still need an elevator," commissioner Dan Holub said.

He continued that the arresting agency would probably be responsible for hauling prisoners to other facilities, possibly the Chase County Jail at Cottonwood Falls.

Commission chairman Bob Hein asked the status of the lots at Marion Industrial Park. The largest expense at the industrial park, Holub said, would be trenching for the utilities since there is a great deal of rock in that area.

"The price from Marion is a price," commissioner Randy Dallke said. "Utilities are a part of the county's cost. That's only a part of $100,000 when we're looking at $7 million."

The commission agreed that operating expenses were another consideration of a new facility.

Dallke said he recently talked with a Morris County Commissioner and was told that a bond issue for a new jail had failed two times. Dallke said he asked the commissioner what Morris County was doing and his response was, "We pay."

Morris County is paying approximately $130,000 per year to transport prisoners to Cottonwood Falls.

"We can guarantee it will be more than that, maybe $140,000 per year for us because we have further to travel," Dallke said.

Holub said he was aware of the possibility of legislators having an issue on their agenda that could require counties to house prisoners who are sentenced to a year or less because prisons are full.

"Another issue is the different level of prisoner. They're no longer just DUIs. We had seven child molesters in there at one time," Holub said.

Dallke said his concern was operating expenses associated with a 72-bed facility.

"The only thing that bothers me, even though I'm in support of this option, is we're talking 10-15 employees to support this program."

Dallke said one jailer could cost the county a total of $50,000 in salary and benefits. Multiplied by 12, the county is looking at $600,000 per year, just for jail personnel.

"Sumner County is looking at an expansion. None of these projects have failed," Holub said. "One prisoner at $30 per day is $11,000 per year. Take that times 70 prisoners and pretty quickly that offsets the cost."

Hein said the longer the county waits to do the project, the more it's going to cost.

"I think the public needs to decide," Hein said.

The next step will be deciding how to finance a $7 million project.

The commission agreed that raising the county's sales tax was the best option.

Holub said previous information provided by the county's bond counsel indicated that 60 percent of a $9 million project could be funded with less than a one percent sales tax.

Hein said Sumner County went a full one percent, and they've almost paid for it all already, Holub said.

"I like the idea of imposing a sales tax because everybody pays instead of just property owners," Hein said.

If a sales tax is imposed, the sales tax will be eliminated when the bond is paid.

Contact will be made with David Artebury of George K. Baum Company regarding bonding options. The commission also will meet with a representative of Hutton Construction and architect Tony Rangle of Law Kingdon to determine the best approach for public meetings.

One lesson the commission had learned from previous public meetings was that the public wants to see drawings of the facility.

Also among the first items of business was to secure property at Marion Industrial Park. It was determined that a minimum of six acres was needed for future expansion needs. City officials will be invited to Monday's meeting to discuss land acquisition.

Additional figures also will be obtained before the public meeting.

"It's either pay now or pay later," Hein said.