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TELL CITY - "People need to understand that this committee doesn't want to build a jail, but we need to," County Commissioner Bill Amos said during a regular meeting Wednesday.
"There's not a great appetite for this from anybody," county attorney Chris Goffinet added during discussion that led to the commissioners approving the employment of the Indianapolis architectural firm DLZ, one of three that responded to a request for proposals.
The committee to which Amos referred has been working to define the county's need to improve jail facilities, and has considered upgrading its aging existing facility or building a new one. Except for gas expenses incurred when they examined other jails, no county funds have been expended in their efforts, he said.
Architectural services are needed at this point in the committee's work to determine how much the county might pay for a new facility, and the committee sent requests for proposals to three firms that have extensive experience in building such facilities, Goffinet said. Members used a point system to rate the offers that came back, he explained, examining their reputations, "the time they spent understanding our needs, the plans they provided and their fees."
The current plan is to build a new jail behind the county courthouse, "but that's not written in stone," he stressed. That location would preclude the time and expense of acquiring land, he pointed out.
"That would free up deputies and put them back out in the county where they belong," Amos said.
"The committee can't decide to build a jail," Goffinet said. He explained a referendum will likely be necessary to give voters the opportunity to vote for or against a plan once it's finalized.
When the committee is further into the process of narrowing possible options to specific plans, public meetings will be scheduled to explain them, the lawyer said.
Among the questions its members are examining is whether to include space to house Indiana Department of Correction prisoners, which could generate revenue. Amos said the committee is considering a 110-bed facility that could be expanded by up to 50 percent.
Sheriff Bob Glenn said the jail population was at about 30 prisoners, adding that Perry Circuit Judge Lucy Goffinet has been working hard to keep their number down.
Sheriff's Deputy Lee Chestnut said the number of state inmates has been increasing by 4 percent each year. Eric Ratts, a division manager for DLZ, added that state prison officials have said the state is short approximately 3,000 beds, and could sign a 10-year contract with the county.
Other counties could pay to have prisoners housed here as well, he said.
He also explained that the county won't be charged for his company's services until a project and its budget have been defined.
"How can I, as a county taxpayer, be assured if there is a profit made on the jail, that it'll go to pay off the jail?" Commissioner Jody Fortwendel asked.
Glenn replied that an ordinance would have to be amended to designate the funds to repayment of money borrowed for construction. Goffinet said that issue will be discussed when the committee meets with financial consultants July 19.
Fortwendel also asked if taxpayers will be informed about how construction costs will affect their property taxes.
"I've been adamant about that," County Councilman Ron Crawford responded from the audience, explaining that meetings will be scheduled so "people will know exactly what it is." He added that figures will be provided showing costs with and without including space for Department of Correction prisoners.
"We'll give them every scenario," he said.