Delaying jail would require powerful arguments

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It is good to see organized, thoughtful arguments, offered in a reasonable manner, like those offered to the Red Willow County Commissioners in opposition to their choice for a location for the new Law Enforcement Center -- jail -- on Norris Avenue.

There is room for legitimate concern over locating the new facility in downtown McCook, and whether another site might be a better choice.

But after listening to the presentation Monday, the county board decided to stay the course and proceed with construction as planned.

And we don't blame them. Their predecessors have been grappling with the issue for nearly 30 years, and a solution is finally in sight.

We have to wonder if one commissioner actually did receive 50 to 100 calls in support of the Norris Avenue location; we know elected officials are subject to the same human nature that causes us to hear what we want to.

And, we wish the commissioners would have been more open earlier about the idea of using the lot north of the courthouse as a jail, and made more of an effort to obtain public input before the decision was actually made.

Yes, there were interim plans to house other county offices in a former hair salon just north of the courthouse. And, it was wise for the county to obtain the adjoining property when it became available, for whatever purpose, if even just a parking lot.

But questions about locating a jail on that space invariably received a noncommittal answer.

A downtown jail is nothing unusual -- an online reader points out that "North Platte, Holdrege and Lexington all have the jails adjacent to the courthouses. So do Harlan County and Hitchcock County. That doesn't seem rare in these here parts."

Or in McCook, where the old jail, and current sheriff's office, is on the same block proposed for the new facility.

We've written before that a jail bond was unlikely to pass on its own, as it didn't when it was part of a combined city-county project a few years ago, which in hindsight would have been a better solution than the one we're being forced to find now.

And now, especially with the organized opposition to the site, it looks increasingly unlikely voters will look favorably upon the county ballot to allow the new law enforcement center to be financed outside the state-mandated property tax limit of 50 cents per $100 of valuation.

If that it turned down, the county will have tough decisions to make to maintain current services as well as operate the new jail.

It may be true that there are opportunities to work with other agencies in operating a county jail, but the local track record for intergovernmental cooperation is not stellar.

It would take some powerfully persuasive arguments to derail and delay a much-needed Red Willow County jail this close to the goal.

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