Jail project depends on many answers

Monday, December 29, 2003

So, what did you think when you heard about the plans for a new jail in Red Willow County? No need to answer. Like the rest of us, you probably were wondering about three things: 1. What will it cost us?; 2. Where will it be located?; and 3. When will it be built?

All are fair questions, especially the one about cost. In a time of unprecedented need -- with school and water problems staring us square in the face -- citizens are demanding, and rightfully so, that government be conducted as efficiently and economically as possible.

Therefore, as consideration of the jail issue begins, the key questions will be how the new jail will be paid for, and, once it is in operation, how much it will cost to operate and how much it will save to not have to transport prisoners to other counties.

For the last six months, Sheriff Gene Mahon says the county has been averaging 18 to 20 prisoners per day. That's an increase from the past, a fact which Sheriff Mahon attributes to heavy drug use. Once an arrest has been made, the sheriff's office and the McCook Police Department can house prisoners in the City of McCook holding cells for 96 hours. But after that, while awaiting trial, the prisoners have to be moved to state-approved jail facilities in other towns, including the jails in Trenton, Curtis, Oberlin and Lexington.

That's expensive. Not only is there a daily jail fee, but the county must also pay for the gasoline, the wear and tear on the car and the officer's time to transport the prisoners.

Those costs need to be computed and compared with what it would cost to build and operate a new jail. In anticipation of the need for a jail facility, the county has been setting aside funds since January of 2001. As of last week, the jail fund contained $611,786.09. That's 15 percent of the $3.9 million which the jail study consultants, ACI/Boland Inc., estimates will be need for the new 40-bed facility.

Still to be determined is where the rest of the money will come from, be it from grants, general fund money or a bond issue. The citizens of Red Willow County will be watching closely as the jail story unfolds.

Yes, we do need a jail. Transporting prisoners to other towns is inefficient and costly. But, in order for the project to fly, the citizens of Red Willow County must be convinced the project deals with the prisoner problem in the most efficient and economical manner possible.

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