McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County commissioners want a schematic drawing of the jail that may be built north of the courthouse in downtown McCook, Nebraska.
"Yes, it's money spent," commission chairman Earl McNutt said during the commissioners' weekly meeting Monday morning. "But we'll have a colored picture of what the jail would look like on this property."
McNutt told fellow commissioners Steve Downer and Vesta Dack, "We knew the (jail) study wasn't the final step. Our next step is the schematic design phase." Architects for Prochaska and Associates, the Omaha firm that updated and completed the jail feasibility study, could have the schematic design done by the end of November, McNutt said. This could be what people (concerned about the impact of a jail building in a business and residential area) are waiting for, Downer said.
Downer said the idea of having the courthouse and jailhouse close together is nothing new -- many counties in Nebraska do just that. And, he said, two of Nebraska's most recognizable images are Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock, Bridgeport-area rock formation landmarks sitting side-by-side on the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail and Pony Express route through Nebraska. A courthouse with a jailhouse next door "isn't a new idea," Downer said. What's new is a manufactured jail facility on the outskirts of a town, he said.
Dack and sheriff's officers Chief Deputy Alan Kotschwar and Deputy Justin Davis attended a U.S. Department of Justice/National Institute of Corrections workshop called "Jail as Part of County Government," Sept. 27, 28 and 29, in Kearney. Dack said she learned the difference between a "jail" and a "penitentiary." A "jail" is a correctional facility for short-term prisoner incarceration, she said, and a "penitentiary" is maximum-security prison cells for long-term prisoners. "A jail and a penitentiary are two different things," she said, and Red Willow County is proposing a jail.
One of the speakers at the workshop, a judge from Minnesota, said that counties that continue to transport prisoners -- as Red Willow County is being forced to do -- are "asking to be sued," Dack said, especially in a country and culture so quick to sue over anything perceived as an indiscretion, injustice or injury.
Dack wants to show at each county commissioners' meeting a 23-minute video called "Beyond the Myths: The Jail in Your Community," providing the public information about jails and the need for community interest in local jail issues.
Dack said that more in-depth operation cost projections for the proposed jail "are coming," and will be based on at least nine and up to the 12 employees recommended for the daily operation of a 24-bed, 24-hour jail.
Downer said it's possible that, with its own jail, the county would not contract with the city for dispatching services, that the county's jailers could also be dispatchers. The dispatching contract with the city costs the county $45,000 a year.
Dack said the commissioners' decision boils down to deciding whether the county wants to build and operate its own jail, or continue to transport prisoners as it does now. The county's liability involved with prisoner transport worries her terribly, she said.
McNutt concluded, "This board will have to decide how this county will operate for at least the next 20 years," (it would be a 20-year bond to pay for the jail), and maybe forever, he said, because the courthouse isn't moving.
Commissioners will continue to discuss the jail at their weekly meetings, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., each Monday (except holidays) in their office on the third floor of the courthouse in McCook.
Commissioners will not meet Monday, Oct. 10, in observance of Columbus Day.
During a 15-minute closed session, commissioners and Greg and Janet Hepp discussed the county's possible purchase of the Hepps' two rental properties at 520 Norris. The purchase would mean that the county owns all the lots north of the courthouse on the west side of the 500 block of Norris Avenue, and could use the land to build a jail.
Commissioners approved "Bid Package No. 4," for construction remodeling and renovation in the 100 wing of the county-owned Hillcrest Nursing Home.
The change from double occupancy rooms to single occupancy rooms in the 100 wing is part of Hillcrest's $2,708,899 upgrade and renovation project.
RaDec Construction of Hartington, Nebraska, is the construction manager for the entire project and is guaranteeing a maximum price of $587,843 for the fourth bid package. RaDec officials continue to work on writing contracts with about 20 sub-contractors for this portion of the renovation project, said board of trustees board member Randy Dean of Indianola.
Work in the 200 wing and separating it from the 100 wing started Monday. The renovation project includes an $11,000 door with electronic locks and a fire alarm system that will partition-off the 300 wing during construction and, Dean said, provide safety and protection for residents throughout renovation.
Karl Elmshaeuser of Ogallala, director of the West Central Nebraska Development District and Red Willow County's "RC (responsible charge) person" for federal aid road projects, told commissioners that the environmental study on the county's approximately $1 million "McCook North" six-inch asphalt overlay project needs to be updated for the National Environmental Protection Agency.
"McCook North" proposes 2 1⁄2 miles of asphalt northeast of McCook, from the north end of McCook's East 11th Street north on County Road 386. It has been waiting for several years for federal funding that would pay 80 percent; the county's share would be $250,000 to $260,000.
Elmshaeuser said the single bid to complete the environmental update came from Olsson Associates of Grand Island/Omaha for $4,884.51.
Declining to update the required environmental study -- and the wetlands delineation that has to be done by Oct. 15 -- would jeopardize federal funding. McNutt said, "What it boils down to is spending 49-hundred dollars and keeping the project alive, or forgetting the project entirely."
There's still no guarantee that the federal funding will materialize. Downer said, "The odds aren't good to get the federal funds now," and McNutt added, "We're not in the loop for it anyway," but Red Willow County's project could move up as other projects are withdrawn.
Downer said it's a matter of "gambling $5,000 to see if we can get $800,000."
Elmshaeuser told commissioners they can elect not to go forward, but McNutt said, "We owe it to the taxpayers to try to get this (road improvement project) taken care of."
Dack said the county road north of East 11th is a very well-traveled -- and often-discussed -- graveled county road. "That road's always being talked about," Dack said. "One new pothole, and I'm going to hear about it." She questioned the wisdom of rejecting the possibility of federal funding for the improvement project now.
McNutt said, "I hate to throw $5,000 out there for nothing, but we can keep our fingers crossed and hope it (the federal funding) can happen." Downer added, "The pay-off is pretty good."
Commissioners approved the bid from Olsson Associates to complete the environmental study update.
In other action, commissioners levied the necessary taxes for 2011, certified all levies and moved the county's accounts payable claims day from Oct. 10 Columbus Day, when the courthouse will be closed, to Oct. 17.