(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – A closely split decision among Dearborn County Council members will leave the question of funding a jail expansion to voters.
Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to send the issue to a referendum with Bryan Messmore, Jim Hughes, Dan Lansing, and Dennis Kraus, Sr. voting for the move. Bill Ullrich, Liz Morris, and Maynard Barrett voted “nay.”
The cost of the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center expansion has been estimated at between $12.7 million and $14.8 million in projections by accounting firm H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, hired by the county to figure the costs.
A law passed by the Indiana Legislature in 2009 requires any public project over a $12 million bond amount to be decided by referendum, however, council has been considering funding ideas which would have kept the bond total below the threshold.
Those funding plans – detailed in an Eagle 99.3 story last February - include using millions of dollars in casino revenue up front to lower the overall bond amount. Use of the riverboat funds would require a unanimous vote from all seven county council members.
The funding question is not being sent to the ballot out of necessity. Rather, it is a voluntary move.
“It still affects the taxpayers one way or another,” said councilman Bryan Messmore. “If we can get it to an $11 or $12 million solution I’m willing to dig into the county savings.
Councilmember Bill Ullrich explained his no vote, saying he doubts it will pass.
“It depends on how the public educates themselves before they vote,” he said.
Ullrich also felt the county was prepared to go forward. He argues that due diligence has been done on the project which has been a necessity for nearly a decade as the jail is consistently over capacity.
“We should proceed sooner rather than later. It’s going on nine years since the need for this was identified. And, the economy is going to turn around and when it does it’s going to cost us more,” Ullrich said.
Messmore said he would support the up to $15 million cost if voters approve it.
Ullrich also said the expansion of the jail could also come to the point where it is nobody’s decision. With the overcrowding issue, a judge could at any time order the county to build a sufficient expansion.
Dearborn County Clerk Phil Weaver says it is likely that the referendum would appear on the November ballot. Weaver said the language that appears on the ballot would be decided by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.