(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - For the second time in six months, the cost of an expansion of the jail at the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center is going up.
But, it will meet the county’s jail needs for up to 30 years, Dearborn County Administrator Terri Randall tells Eagle 99.3. The additional 64 beds added to the core 144 beds takes the expansion to a total 208 new beds. That will almost double the number the jail’s capacity from 216 existing beds.
County leaders had been aiming for a $9.3 million project budget. Knowing they needed a jail to solve the county’s overcrowding problem well into the future, County Commissioner and County Council budgeted $10.4 million for the project back in December.
Since the $10.4 million figure was approved, however, bids have come back over budget. County leaders also decided to add 64 beds to the jail expansion, according to Randall.
“While none of us are happy about where the construction cost landed, it is a reality and there is no reason to hide it or make apologies. The construction market is what the construction market is and there was certainly no fluff in this project design,” Randall said by email.
Last week, council and commissioners both voted to approve an additional $1.1 million for the project for two reasons: to meet the higher-than-anticipated bids and to build out what would have been a large empty space called a “shell” under the previously approved plan.
Construction firm Maxwell Construction, of Greendale, estimates the total cost for construction at $11.5 million. As had been the plan before, the project will still be paid for by the county’s riverboat savings fund.
Indiana law requires taxpayer-funded projects costing $12 million or more to be subject to a public referendum. Randall said there have been rumblings from some citizens that the jail budget was being manipulated in order to allow county leaders to consciously avoid a county-wide vote.
“However, the truth as I know it seeing it first-hand every day is that the main objective of Commissioners and County Council from day-one has been to ensure they spent the dollars very wisely,” Randall said, adding that jail construction is very specialized because of strict state guidelines on everything from materials to space utilization.
The jail is not the kind of feel good project that wins votes, said Randall, but the realities of increases in the local inmate population and growing drug problems in the community dictate that something be done.
Randall said that even based on conservative estimations of an increase in inmate population, a 144-bed project would have only met the county’s needs for another 15 years. In December, the county decided to bid out the additional 64 beds included in a fully-constructed shell as an alternate project. Bids came in about $88,000 less than expected at $712,480.
“The decision then was left to Commissioners and County Council. Should they leave a shell with walls, lighting, etc. and no beds with a plan to finish the space at some point in the future? Or, did it make financial sense to buy those 64 beds at today’s dollars?” Randall asks, adding that to build out the shell in 15 years when the beds would be needed could cost upwards of $1.4 million.
Randall, as the County Commissioners’ right-hand woman, says she will question every aspect of any project or expenditure that crosses her desk.
Not just the additional monies approved this month, but the jail project in general has been scrutinized – and sometimes criticized – on blogs. Randall urges the public to be informed of the project before forming an opinion. She welcomes citizens to contact her for a personal review of the project.
“I am confident that this Jail Expansion is not only necessary, but it is a quality project that solves an important problem that won’t raise its head again in 10 years because it wasn’t done right the first time,” she said.
Randall defends the county’s use of its riverboat savings to pay for the jail expansion. County Council has known about the impending need for a jail expansion for a number of years.
“They were frugal and put aside the funds to avoid having to bond out the construction cost and pay interest on the loan,” said Randall.
A special meeting of County Commissioners was held Tuesday to accept jail bids and grant permission to proceed.
County Commissioners called for a special meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 8:30 in the Commissioners room. It’s to accept jail bids and grant notice to proceed.