It's going to cost the county regardless of jail decision

Staff reporter

New jail, old jail, no jail,

Regardless of which decision Marion County taxpayers and Marion County Commission make in the coming months it is going to cost money.

Cost projections for the construction of a new 70-some-bed county jail at Marion Industrial Park are more than $7.5 million and $6.4 million for 68-bed project on the courthouse property.

On Monday, the commission heard that remodeling the existing jail and constructing a new 911 dispatch center could cost the county more than $5 million.

So if county voters decide not to approve a bond issue for any of the above, the county will be forced to transport prisoners to other facilities out-of-county.

Cost estimates to send prisoners to another county could cost the county $35 per day and with an average of 10 prisoners, it could be a cost of $10,500 per month or $126,000 per year to house inmates.

The rising cost of fuel could inflate that cost considerably with sheriff's department personnel transporting prisoners to and from jail after booking and for various court dates.

The concern that Tony Rangle of Law Kingdon Architecture expressed to the commission was that even with multimillion dollar improvements to the existing jail, it still would not meet American Corrections Association standards which leaves the county open for lawsuits.

Rangle said the current jail is structurally stable but not designed for a modern jail or emergency communications center.

The cell bars are a part of the structure and cannot be removed.

"That facility is stuck the way it is and won't ever meet ACA standards," Rangle said.

If remodeled, it would probably last another 20 years.

If the current jail is renovated, inmates would have to be housed out-of-county and the sheriff's department and dispatch center would have to be relocated.

With the renovation project, Rangle recommended a new structure be built for 911 dispatch and emergency management on the courthouse parking lot, south of the courthouse. That structure would be a FEMA-approved storm shelter with concrete reinforcement.

If a new jail is constructed, the dispatch center would be located in the basement, under the jail.

Another issue about the current location for the jail and emergency operations center is being located in a flood plain.

Michele Abbott-Becker, director of communications and emergency management, said water has been an issue in the current jail building that may or may not be related to being located in a flood plain.

If nothing is done, the real issue will become another inspection by the state which could result in setting capacity limits, addressing ADA issues, and the county's exposure to liability issues. That inspection could result in more costly improvements or the facility being shut down.

Typical county inmates now are being replaced with more serious criminals.

"We have seven inmates who are incarcerated for indecent liberties with children which carry the same sentences as murder," Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker said. "They have a lot to lose and a lot to gain by getting out."

The commission determined that the next step needs to be another public meeting, cost estimates from bond counsel, and public education.

The consensus of the commission was to have professional assistance in presenting the project with architectural renderings.

Rangle agreed to compile information regarding the Sumner County prison project of which Law Kingdon was the architect.

A public building commission also needs to be formed.

The commission is planning to have the bond issue on the November ballot.