County forced to make decision on jail

At this point in their preliminary concept planning, members of the Richardson County Jail Committee are looking at two basic options.

One (Option 1) is to convert the county-owned Armory building just west of Falls City into a 24-bed jail and Law Enforcement Center. The other (Option 2) is to close (or be forced to close) the current Richardson County Jail atop the Courthouse and transport prisoners.

While the current jail has met recent inspections, the majority of jail spaces required by Nebraska Jail Standards are lacking — insufficient for the operation of a modern jail.

Committee members met Nov. 7 and are expected to make a recommendation when they meet again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, in the District Courtroom at the Courthouse.

Sheriff Randy Houser has said that if the jail were to close, a couple of prisoners could be transported to Nemaha County, but most would be taken to Cass County.  The county would pay a daily fee per prisoner housed at another facility and would be responsible for all medical expenses.  Any liability would remain with the county.  And housing fees would be subject to increases.

Jay Weingarten of Prochaska & Associates presented and described the budgets for each option.  The construction budget for the Armory was estimated at $2,821,020, with other (soft, i.e. construction phase testing, furnishings, equipment, etc.) costs projected at $805,260, for a total of $3,626,280.

Estimates for transporting and boarding prisoners in another county for 20 years are projected at $7,910,629.  But that’s just for 20 years.  The costs to transport and house would continue indefinitely, or until the county builds a jail.  The county would be vulnerable to fluctuations  in available beds and/or rates.  

The 20-year period of transport and boarding costs is used as a comparison with the length of a construction bond, which could be used to finance Option 1.

Denny Macomber from Jail Standards attended the Nov. 7 meeting and pointed out that Richardson County has saved a significant amount of money by purchasing the existing Armory.  The costs to build a jail from the ground up would be much higher.

Andy Snyder from Smith Hayes explained financing options.  A 5-cent tax increase (allowable for construction of county facilities such as jails) would generate, over time, about $7,250,000 for a project.  The current budget for Option 1 would represent a tax increase of about 2.5 cents per $100 of taxable valuation, or approximately $25 per $100,000 of valuation.

At the conclusion of the Nov. 7 meeting, committee members gave their thoughts and opinions about the project.  Among the discussion items:  refitting the Armory as a jail/Law Enforcement Center appears feasible (it is an infrastructure and will need to be done sooner or later; the costs are better now than they will be in the future; interest rates are low); the tax costs to taxpayers could become difficult, depending on ag land valuations and lower commodity prices; could the number of cells/beds be cut?; if the number of cells/beds were cut, that would reduce the number of classifications of inmates that could be held; is the project overpriced?

A preliminary committee vote on a possible recommendation to the county board was seven in favor of proceeding with the project and two against.

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