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What can county residents afford?: Size, financing key questions for jail committee

Staff writer

Size and financing of a future jail were major topics Thursday in Hillsboro at a second meeting of the Marion County jail committee.

Newly elected committee Vice Chairman Harry Bennett said it is important to ask the sheriff’s department what its needs are for a new jail.

Sheriff Rob Craft said any jail would need to be designed to meet future demands, otherwise the county would be in the unenviable position of needing to expand or build again.

Craft said anything less than 20 beds would not be worth doing. A jail with 30-35 beds could last approximately 20 years, if inmate numbers continue to increase about one per year.

A 35-bed jail could be staffed by the same number of people as a much smaller jail, Craft said.

It would be helpful if a new jail included sheriff’s department offices and dispatch, said Craft and Communications and Emergency Management Director Michele Abbott.

Several committee members said they would want a jail to have room available to expand when needed.

Committee member Burton Tidwell questioned if the county could build a smaller version of the jail that was proposed in 2008. The county wouldn’t have to figuratively reinvent the wheel if the plans are a viable starting point.

Financing

The committee discussed a possible financing plan for a facility. In a proposed plan, construction costs could be paid with 10-year bonds. To pay the bonds with interest, each residence on tax rolls in Marion County could be taxed a flat fee each year for 10 years.

Committee member Don Kraus said such a system would be fair, because every household benefits from 911 and having criminals off the streets.

Kraus used a tax of $120 per year as an example, because it would be $10 per month. With 5,900 residences on county tax rolls, that could raise about $7.1 million in 10 years.

The jail proposed in 2008 was estimated to cost about $8.3 million. Renovating the current jail to meet fire code and Americans with Disabilities Act standards would cost more than $3 million, Abbott said.

Committee member Barb Britton said a flat tax could be too burdening to county residents on fixed incomes. While not a large amount, $10 per month could force some to decide between eating and filling a prescription.

In other business:

  • Alternate Danny Flynn was elected chairman of the new committee.
  • Craft will research costs of sending county inmates to jails elsewhere, including personnel, equipment, and transportation costs.
  • The committee wants to completely separate dispatch from jailer duties. Dispatchers dealing with inmates is unsafe, Abbott said.
  • The next meeting will be 6:30 p.m. May 19 at a location yet to be determined. The committee is meeting twice a month for about three hours per session.

Last modified May 13, 2009

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