Letter to the Editor

Not best solution

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dear Editor,

Last Thursday I attended the County/City meeting on the proposed joint public safety and city fire department building. I was only there for the first two hours but came away with more questions than answers.

 The meeting was like an executive summary of the jail needs assessment, which can be located on the Internet at http://www.co.red-willow.ne.us/jail_study.html if you want to read the entire document. Basically the jail committee recommended that the facility be funded and constructed. That is the reason you will see the two funding options in the Nov. 7 general election.

After reading the study it appeared to me that we do need to have a larger facility for the sheriff, his staff and their prisoners. What I am not so sure of is that the solution presented at the meeting is the right one for our community.

 The forecast decline in our area's population (approx. 2,200) over the next 25 years appears to me to be a reasonable projection based on our decline over the last 20 years. What I don't feel good about is their forecast increase in the number of beds needed by 2030 to house those arrested and awaiting trial. Forecasting the unknown and unknowable is a pretty tough job for anyone, even for an organization who has been guessing at it for 37 years. I have a hard time feeling comfortable with 26 beds needed (30 requested) when we are going to have 2,200 fewer citizens living in the community of Southwest Nebraska.

The only age group showing much of a percentage increase was in those over 65. Those 65 or older usually have more fender benders and I doubt if the sheriff's department will be putting those folks in the local lockup.

One assumption made was that the beds not utilized might/could be leased to surrounding counties and other organizations needing to house their arrestees.

It appears that we would have plenty of extra beds to rent out but would any organization need to utilize them? The study surveyed the surrounding counties and all they needed were beds for potential women incarcerated and there just are not many of them in this part of the state. I don't think there would be much of a revenue stream from renting the empty beds.

If our county were to get the go ahead from the voters and build the facility I wonder what it would do to the county jails that presently house our arrestees?

I would imagine that Hitchcock and Frontier counties probably budget in each year income to house our jailbirds. Without that income they would really be strapped, needing to increase their taxes.

As I look at it, everyone's taxes in southwest Nebraska would go up along with ours if the facility were built as proposed. Do we really want to treat our fellow Southwest citizens like that?

Fire Chief Harpham indicated in a test that he conducted the response times to fires and EMS calls would go up from the current average of 3 minutes to an average of 5 minutes plus or minus 15 seconds if their facility was moved to the proposed location off Q street. For each minute added to EMS calls for cardiac arrest more lives would be lost.

This does not appear to be improving EMS/fire service to me.

I don't see the city being authorized by its voters to participate in this venture with the county, since city water and sewer are already way up from what they used to be.

The study indicated that if the bond issue were approved county taxes on a $100K property would rise by nearly $67/year and if the city's portion passed too their taxes would go up an additional $68/year on top of what they would pay the county.

Do we need more space and beds for the Sheriff's department, probably yes. Do I agree that the solution offered by the consulting firms is the answer? No I don't. I still feel the better or best solution is still out there and looking to be found.

Respectfully yours,

Steve Batty


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