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The Justice Center Saga Continues....

September 25, 2017

There is a big disagreement going on about what was supposed to be budgeted vs what is budgeted vs what was agreed to be built. This disagreement came to a head on the 15th of this month during a day long visit with the architect and the administration of the judiciary of this County.
 

Lets look at the way this has progressed:

 

Jan 20, 2015, just a few months after I was elected, we held what would be my 1st meeting on building a new jail with the members of the state groups that oversee the certification of all county jails. It was made clear to everyone there a new jail MUST be constructed. There was a large group of people in attendance and we heard very clearly from the judiciary that a justice center must also be built before a tragedy occurs inside our overcrowded courtrooms. We asked the state to complete a “needs analysis” of the jail and come back with a report.

July 15, 2015, there was another meeting with state officials over their needs analysis for a new jail. They encouraged the County to proceed with some haste in hiring an architectural firm, and to strongly consider a combined jail / justice center. They suggested 307 jail beds, along with 100 workhouse beds and combining the jail, workhouse and court system together for better utilization of manpower and to avoid duplicating work efforts. They made no recommendations on type of justice center as they have no authority over that, but highly suggested that when its built it be attached to the jail.
Sometime in Jan or Feb 2016, (after a jail inspection; which we failed) there was yet another meeting with the state officials, a kind of “come to the cross” meeting in which they expressed their extreme displeasure of the speed of the County’s decision making on constructing a jail, and outlined the eventual disastrous outcome of NOT making some positive steps forward with this project, QUICKLY !
March 8 ,2016 in the regular monthly Commission meeting, the 15 commissioners present (including me) all voted for Resolution 16-11 to build a correctional facility, design an attached Judicial Center and fund it “by levying additional property taxes if necessary.” (Gallagher, Sanders, Brown absent). This resolution was necessary for the Mayor and sheriff to have in hand when they appeared before the state board to answer about the condition of the jail and ask for yet another continued “plan of action”, which was necessary to prevent the jail from being closed.
April 5, 2016 there was a large meeting with the newly hired architect, Spirit Architecture and Mr. Jim Langford, the lead architect. This company has more than 20 years experience in designing and building jails and justice centers. He described the method for designing a construction program of this nature. He stated he would meet with those who worked at the jail and courthouse, namely “Sheriff (Swing) and his key staff, Judge Charles Rich, Clerks Michelle Murray and Curt Cobb, B C Planning Dir. Chris White”, to determine their needs and develop a planning budget accordingly. He also agreed to view the 8 proposed sites then under consideration.
May 3, 2016, Mr. Langford sent a Proposed Planning Budget to Robert Daniel, the County Finance Director. In that planning budget he detailed the suggested square footage for each section of the complex including jail, sheriff, courtroom and clerks. NOTE: only 3 courtrooms were detailed, and space was allowed for the District Atty to use. A total of 106,496 square feet was budgeted at a range of $26,936,404 up to $29,630,124. This budget was for construction only and did not include, “Testing, Survey’s, Legal Fees, Professional Fees, F.F.&E. (furnishing, fixtures, & equipment) or Property”

 

During these several months of meetings and committees, the issue of what to build and how to pay for it ensued. Many people wanted to know what we could afford to build before we decided what and where to build. The issue of a $50 wheel tax was proposed, placed on the May 1, 2016 ballot and was reject by the voters in this county 4,754 to 3,028. (I was and am still opposed to a wheel tax, but should the issue arise again, I will be sure it is again taken to a referendum for the people to decide for themselves.) I advocated for a separate jail and justice center. The reasoning was, we could build and finance the jail quicker in some remote place while building a justice center on or near the square. I lost those arguments and on June 14, 2016 the majority of the commission voted 13 to 4 to build a single complex (Commissioners Farrar, Anderson, King and I opposed with Commissioner Woodson being absent.) This complex was all based on the architects Planning Budget of 400 jail beds, 3 courtrooms Clerks offices and a space for the DA. At no time was it made known that a 4th courtroom was needed or wanted. (if there was it never appeared in the minutes, T-G articles or my notes)

 

On June 30, 2016 at a special Called Meeting, the commission passed the new County budget which, being based on the architect’s planning budget, included a total of $32,750,000 for the justice center / jail and $19,275,000 for a new Cascade High School. 14 Commissioners attended that meeting (absent were Patterson, King, Anderson and Smith). All 14 (including me) voted for the budget and resulting property tax increase. I voted for the budget for 2 reasons .. we HAD to build a jail and we HAD to build a high school. Even if I had been the only dissenting vote, the budget was passing anyway, and I didn’t want to play politics in that manner, just to say I didn’t vote for it. We needed to show the state we were honest and serious when we all voted for Resolution 16-11 just a few months earlier.
With an architectural firm under contract, designs in process and a firm construction budget in place, the attention turned to which site to buy and stay within the budget of 1 million dollars allowed for land. Over the course of a year or more the committee continued to narrow the list from 15 potential sites to 5. Elm St (old SCHS), Madison St (old KMart), Depot St. Harts Chapel Rd. and Green Lane.

 

A very strong push was made to approve the approx 20 acres of the old chicken / dog food plant and Mittwede’s shopping center. Certain citizens felt building a complex there would help protect the businesses near the square and simultaneously clean up an eyesore in the middle of town. I realize both are very valid points, but I fought against using this site for a few reasons. 1) There were NINETEEN different owners and negotiating a reasonable price would be near impossible, Also the railroad is involved and had been reported that they would NOT sell, but would lease the land. I do not advocated building on leased land. 2) We were under the gun to build quickly and with all the negotiating to be done, along with demolition, the time table just didn’t work. and 3) Most important to me, some emanate domain issues existed that would require the County to forcibly take certain citizens property and businesses ,undoubtably resulting in court cases and legal fees which only after the fact would a judge decide how much the County would have to pay for that property and damages. This was something I was NOT willing to do. With land costs, demolition, potential hazmat issues and emirate domain legal costs there was no way the County could obtain that site within the 1 million dollar budget. This site was finally eliminated from the short list 
 

On Oct. 18, 2016, at the regular Courthouse and Property Committee, I moved to eliminate the Elm st. and Depot St sites and send the other 3 to the full Commission for a final vote. The motion passed unanimously. So on Nov. 8, at the regular Commission meeting, (Smith and Woodson were absent) Commissioners Yockey and King had added the DEPOT ST. back to the agenda for more consideration. The vote to reconsider was 8 - 8 and failed. I then moved to eliminate the old Kmart site and proceed with engineering studies on the last 2 sites. GREEN LANE and HARTS CHAPEL ROAD

 

These 2 sites were the same size and the same price. After a lot of meetings and discussions and considerable pressure from the state to move forward, a special called meeting of the Commission was held on Jan 24, 2017 to finally pick a site. This is TWO years after the initial meeting I first attended. The Commission was equally split between HARTS CHAPEL and GREEN LANE, 9-9 and Mayor Ray cast the deciding vote for HARTS CHAPEL.

With a final site selected, the architect was able to move forward with some design work and on Feb 21, 2017 the architect began a week long series of meetings with the stakeholders refining the needs requirements of each department. I received a very preliminary floorplan on the 21st of Feb that included 4 courtrooms, a DA office along with Probation offices. In my notes, I had the budget was approx. 29 million dollars.
 

Coming back on the 24th, I received updated plans, which still had 4 courtrooms, DA and Probation offices and my notes do not indicate an increase of the budget.
Mr. Langford concluded his visit with a Memo for the Record, and in the summary of that memo he stated..”At this time, we believe the project remains within budget parameters.” He goes on to say “However, since the Program has had a small amount of square footage creep, we will review all layouts to pursue further efficiency. Subsequent phases (or ‘loops’) will define additional layers of details which will be discussed with key users. Continued budget sensitivity will be needed during each succeeding ‘loop’.”

 

This report leads me to believe that the additional “small amount of square footage creep” was considered to be within the original budget range of $26,936,404 up to $29,630,124.
May 23, 2017 at the regular Financial Management Meeting, Robert Daniel passed out a letter from the architectural firm which stated the budget would need to be increased 3 to 4.5 million dollars for several reasons. Mr. Daniel stated to control costs was one reason we needed to hire a construction manager (which had been discussed as was in the process of securing RFQ)
The Times Gazette ran an article the next day..”COSTS RUN HIGH FOR JAIL, SCHOOL” and quoted Mr. Langford's letter attributing the additional projected costs to 1) the specific construction site, 2) addition of offices for DA, Probation and Juvenile Court, 3) Additional square footage requested by departments, and 4) the adjusted time schedule.
July 18, 2017 at the Courthouse and Property Committee meeting, I asked a simple question…who approved the addition of additional offices and square footage, with the resulting budget increases and whether it should have been approved by the commission first? With neither Mayor Ray or Robert Daniel present at the meeting, it was suggested to move to put that question to the Finance meeting the next week, which was unanimously approved. I admit I was miffed at the fact that the project had been expanded above the approved budget, so that evening I emailed the architect and asked,”In short, who authorized the additional 22,000 sq. ft., and do you have documentation of that authorization?” His reply was very explanatory but included, and I quote, “To directly answer your question, the added departments were results of conversations with Mayor Ray. My understanding is various officials - from judicial and/or law enforcement - had discussions with Mayor Ray.”…
The T-G picked up on this the next day July, 20 and quoted from Mr. Langford's email that the increases were from conversations with the Mayor and other officials, and that he felt their considerations to be valid but how to balance out the budget was the County’s decision.
The following week on July 26, 2017 in the Finance meeting, Robert reported the exact specs and budget for the project are “fluid” and have not been set. That the Construction manager has been hired and will review the proposed plans to gain economies and savings. Robert did state he expects the project to remain at the amount set by the Commission ($29,630,124) but, any change would have to be approved by the Commission as well. Judge Rich took exception with the T-G reporting the amount of 32 to 34 million as an “overrun” and said that “it is absolutely a dishonest statement.”
Aug 15, 2017 at the Courthouse and Property Committee, Robert Daniel stated that Bell Construction, the construction manager, was working hard to bring costs back in line with the approved budget.
Now some time between July 18 and this next meeting on Sept 15, a letter (undated and signed by Eugene Ray) was written to the architect stating, “Gentlemen, Funds available for Jail construction consist of $29,630,124. This amount was borrowed for building construction, At this time, the building's square footage need to conform to this budget.” I am assuming this was the catalyst to redraw the plans.
Sept 15, 2017 meetings with the architect and stakeholders were set to begin at 9am and last till 4 pm to review the “new” plans based on reductions from the construction manager and which will be within the approved budget.
This meeting began with the plans of Feb 2017 being displayed next to the new “revised plans” and followed by a 3rd set which contained some alternate spaces. As the architect began to explain the differences between the drawings and why the changes were necessary, a heated discussion ensued from Judge Rich and aimed at me for stating the obvious, that a budget has been set and we have to stay within that budget. For some reason he took this very personal. So that evening I wrote on my 2nd Facebook page this:
"A most interesting all day meeting with the Justice Center architect and office holders today, going over the "new" revised plan to stay within the approved budget. I am supremely disappointed that Tony Barrett and I were the only 2 commissioners out of 18 to show up and he, as the deputy in charge of courthouse security, is a stakeholder and would have been there anyway. I know several commissioners who would have been there if they didn’t have to work, but there are quite a few more who could have been there but, for whatever reason, chose not to show. There was no representative from the Mayor's office or the Finance department in attendance. (NO I am NOT making any type of negative comment about Mayor Ray being ill and unable to attend) The newspaper wasn't even there. This is the most expensive, time sensitive, project our County is, or will be, involved in for many years. where was everyone? Thanks to Keith, I was able to take time away from work and attend because I know this is so important. It was time well spent. I was outnumbered, umpteen to 1, and kinda got attacked for defending the fact that the Commission passed a budget based on the architects original meetings with everyone and that we needed to stay within that budget. I will say Judges Rich and Durard made very convincing arguments for a 4th courtroom and the need for a DA's office. (the DA may pay around $25k / year rent for their office) The jail really needs a separate entry for the workhouse to prevent contraband from entering the building, and by enclosing the last section of the 2nd jail pod we would gain an additional 36 beds... which could generate almost $500,000 per year per diem from the state just for those beds. The Sheriff's office, Clerk and Master, and Circuit Court Clerk all understood why they weren't getting the extra square footage they had requested and were generally agreeable to the new plan. Because of the insistence of the Judges that a 4th courtroom and DA office was not just a want but a very real need, and that those additions will cost 3.5 - 4 million more dollars, the architect decided that we needed to hold off proceeding forward until these additions and the associated costs can be revisited in the next round of Commission meetings and make the decision to either add the space or leave it out. IF, and I mean IF, we can find a way to finance those additions WITHOUT raising taxes I would not object to the increase in budget, but I WILL NOT vote for a tax increase!"

 

On the following Monday I met with Robert Daniel to discuss possible ways to include those things the judges asked for, namely a DA office and 4th courtroom. I felt we had found a path to get things moving so I wrote the following email to Circuit Court Clerk Murray:
"Michelle,
I want to explain my position on how we can move forward with the Justice Center. Since I do not have Judge Rich's email, I hope you will forward this to him.
First, I apologize if my comments in Friday's meeting came off as being indifferent to the needs of the judiciary, that is not the case at all. I fully understand the perils you guys face working in the current courthouse and know that we must correct the situation as quick as possible.
We are in serious peril of having TCI … shut down our current jail because we are not moving forward with any speed. Imagine the problems and expense if that happens. It would bankrupt the County ! We are also in jeopardy of incurring financial penalties because we have not used money we have committed to under our bond agreement.
I believe the best path to move forward quickly is to have the Mayor contact the architect now and tell him to move forward with the plans presented Friday being 3 courtrooms AND the with alternate #1 being the DA office and 4th courtroom, Alternate #2 being the separate entry for the workhouse and alternate #3 being enclosing the final wedge of the jail. That will get the engineers started and a bid package put in the schedule.
Based on the higher guesstimate of $250/sf alternate #1 should come in at just over 1 million dollars and Alternate #2 at $300,000 and allowing for a $200,000 contingency, we are looking at a 1.5 million increase which will cost the county around $150,000 per year to pay. I have had a good conversation with Robert Daniel and we believe this will be doable WITHOUT a tax increase.
Moving the fee offices out of First Union will save us $50,000 per year... probation offices could move into the old DA offices in the courthouse and save us another $50,000 per year. The DA will start paying rent bringing in another $25,000 ... so now we only have to make up $25,000 per year. (no problem). I know you guys are nervous about the DA office and courtroom being listed as an "alternate" but to go back now, redesign the floorpans, rework the budget by having to go back through committee and approving budget amendments will delay this thing several more months and increase the chances of getting shut down by TCI.
If we proceed now, we can have bids awarded before the next budget cycle and we WILL make whatever adjustments at that time to ENSURE alternate #1 is included.
I went to the courthouse today to see Anita and check on how Eugene is doing. When I went in there sat Eugene, along with Tony Barrett so I shared my opinion with them.
With the Justice Center budget of 29.6 million already being approved by the Commission and the plans drawn to meet that budget ready, this is the quickest, best route to take.
If you have any questions about my opinions, please don't hesitate to call."

(end of email)
So now the next move will be in the next Finance Committee meeting to see if the desire of the Committee is to stay within budget or try to gain approval of the Commission to expand the budget.

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