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LETTERS: County jail panel asks for patience, seeks input

An open letter to Marion County residents:

Members of the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee would like to express their thanks for your input and support. Each committee member recognizes the serious nature of this issue, and we will do our best to represent the concerns of all county citizens.

We must address several issues relative to the existing jail, sheriff’s office, and 911 dispatch. No one on the committee wants to see the county spend more dollars than absolutely necessary. However, the county is in a no-win situation that will reach a critical state if we fail to take positive steps to rectify the inadequacies of current facilities.

Your elected commissioners have asked citizens of the county to volunteer for this committee and chose those who are serving. The committee has been charged with finding a solution for the commissioners’ review.

We have no power to raise taxes, to levy special taxes for any purpose, or to decide if this question is to be placed on a ballot for Marion County residents to vote. We have authority only to bring to the commissioners the results of our study.

There is no guarantee that the commission will adopt or act on any of our recommendations.

We are investing all viable options, including maintaining a holding facility and transporting prisoners to other county jails. We also have explored renovation of the existing jail but have found that the costs would be equal to or greater than the cost of a new facility.

Another major issue is that to do nothing, the county faces probable legal action at a cost higher than building a new facility.

The State of Kansas does not have its own set standards for jails, which dictates that Marion County must follow federal guidelines of the American Correctional Association. To deviate from these guidelines leaves the county vulnerable to further legal problems.

Committee consensus was that we first should address the issue of how to pay for any new construction before we reasonably could determine what type of facility should be recommended.

We unanimously agreed to limit the amount of required funding as much as possible and likewise to limit the time period required for Marion County residents to pay for any facility.

The question of separating facilities housing, the sheriff’s offices, and jail from 911-Emergency Management Services has been rejected because of the close working relationship of these departments. Again, the existing building would require expansive rebuilding for any of these uses.

When we have more fully developed our recommendations, we will have countywide town meetings to bring to our citizens a thorough explanation of the study. These meetings will offer residents a forum to ask questions and to express concerns.

We have been working on this project since May, have had approximately six meetings to date, and know that our task is far from reaching the point of bringing our recommendation to the commissioners. Please bear with us and allow us to do our work thoroughly and with thoughtful study.

Feel free to write your committee in care of the county newspapers. Your letters will be forwarded for our review, and each will be read and thoughtfully considered.

Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee

Last modified July 23, 2009

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