City role in county jail is complex issue

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sometimes, things are not as simple as they seem. Take Red Willow County's jail study, for example. When it was first ordered by the Red Willow County Commission, we assumed that the jail consultants would gather facts and figures to present to the county commission for consideration.

Then -- based on the findings of the jail consultants -- we assumed the commissioners would make a decision about what jail plan, if any, to submit to the voters.

How naive we were. Instead, what has happened on this issue is that much of the debate is taking place before, not after, a recommendation has been made.

The debate began when the county asked the city to assist with the jail study. Simple request, right? Well, not in the opinion of Police Chief Ike Brown, who concluded a report to the City Council Monday night by saying, "I do not believe the interests of the citizens of the City of McCook could be served by a countywide law enforcement system in which the services were to be provided by the County." He goes on to say that he doesn't believe the current level of law enforcement could be maintained in a cost effective manner through countywide law enforcement.

Based on figures presented by Chief Brown, a city-county jail facility would cost more than $7 million, and would require annual operation costs of between $500,000 and $700.000. Reuben Hoff Jr., chairman of the jail study task force, disputes these figures as premature, and says the city needs to wait until after Phase II of the study to make a determination about the project.

That's good advice. The people of McCook and Red Willow County need to have precise facts and figures and they need to look at all sides of the issue before deciding how best to proceed on the jail and city-county law enforcement.

There's much more to talk about. For example, since constuction of a building to house fire trucks costs much less than a jail and sheriff's office, wouldn't it be better to have a separate facility for the fire barn? Also, couldn't the sheriff's office and police department share space in the same facility, even without city-county consolidation of law enforcement?

In other words, let's not jump to conclusions concerning a jail and city-county law enforcement. Instead, let's work together to come up with a jail proposal and then let the voters of McCook and Red Willow County decide its fate.

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