Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee placed the burden to decide what to do about the jail on the shoulders of the county commission last week.
Nine committee members in attendance voted unanimously to disband the committee, saying the committee had met its mandate to recommend a course of action to replace the existing jail.
At the committee’s last meeting in November 2009, the committee recommended the county select Treanor Architects, P.A., of Topeka, or HMN Architects, Inc., of Overland Park, to work with the county on the project.
All of the committee member are Marion County taxpayers and don’t want to see taxes increase, but they recognize the need to do something, committee chairman Mike Kleiber said.
Committee members agreed they would want commissioners to put whatever plan they choose on a countywide ballot.
Commission Chairman Randy Dallke said he thought it was time to bring the issue of a new jail before voters again. If voters reject another plan, commissioners may need to take action without a referendum. He said he would support moving the sheriff’s department and emergency communications out of the current jail and converting the entire building to jail space. The county would still need to find space for those departments elsewhere.
County commissioners called the meeting Aug. 25 to discuss rulings from the Kansas fire marshal and attorney general regarding jail safety and financing. The entire commission, County Clerk Carol Maggard, and five members of the public attended the meeting.
The fire marshal’s office declared Aug. 2 the jail can only house four inmates, but that ruling is being reviewed.
An opinion from the attorney general’s office said a proposed flat fee to finance a new jail has never been tested in court nor addressed in state statutes. County Attorney Susan Robson has inferred from the opinion that the attorney general’s office considers the fee ill advised.
Committee member Karen Wheeler asked if legislation could be passed to allow the fee. Legislation could take years to pass, Dallke said.
Committee member Randy Hagen said he had a hard time believing the fee wouldn’t work.
Sales and property taxes will be the only financing options if a statute isn’t passed, committee member Ed Wheeler said. He said he wanted county commissioners to make that decision.
Hagen said he didn’t think sales or property tax would pass a referendum. He said people in Marion and Hillsboro wouldn’t vote for a sales-tax increase, and people in the outer reaches of the county wouldn’t vote for a property-tax hike.
A 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 77-bed, $8.65-million jail was defeated by a 3-1 margin in a November 2008 referendum. The committee had recommended the county build a smaller jail, with 26 to 40 beds. In a Sept. 22, 2009 meeting, architects told the committee a 32-bed jail would likely cost between $3.2 and $4.3 million, which would include space for the sheriff’s department and emergency communications.
An architect estimated renovating the existing jail would cost about $2 million, and the jail would only be able to hold four to eight inmates, Emergency Communications Director Michele Abbott said.