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.