Dale Dueland of McCook told Red Willow County commissioners Monday morning that the state's Department of Correctional Services may cooperate with the county on the rental of jail beds if the county's new jail and law enforcement center is built on land south of the state's work ethic camp in McCook.
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt told Dueland and those at the weekly meeting Monday morning that Bob Houston, director of the state's correctional services, said the state will not contract with Red Willow County for jail beds because of the travel distance from Lincoln and Omaha. McNutt said that Houston said they may consider renting jail bed space because of overcrowding in detention centers in the eastern part of the state, "but never in the western part of the state," McNutt said.
McNutt said the state may contract with Lancaster or Douglas counties, but to eliminate the costs and liability of travel and transportation, "they don't want to haul prisoners way out here."
Gerry Hunter, a deputy with the Red Willow County sheriff's office, told commissioners that he attended a jail standards conference last week and he feels that a joint county-state jail facility "is not going to happen," considering the time, distance and costs involved in remote housing of prisoners.
Fellow commissioner Vesta Dack said that the eastern part of the state may be the benefactor of anything the state may do about jail contracts, but McNutt said that the Saunders county jail in Wahoo -- half way between Lincoln and Omaha -- was "built large" banking on state contracts, but they're not getting the prisoner counts to maintain capacity.
Dueland agreed that the state contracting with individual county jails -- there are 73 in the state -- may be "a nightmare," but he encouraged commissioners to consider that the work ethic camp and a state-county jail could accept "low-risk offenders that can come out here in the busloads. They don't need to be personally escorted by deputies."
Dueland also encouraged commissioners to consider the possibility of building the law enforcement center/jail as a regional center -- big enough to attract contracts for bed space from area jails and even from those out-of-state. The size of jail is "severely limited on the courthouse lot," Dueland said. "Look five, 10, 20 years down the road ... this is a 50- to 100-year investment for the county."
Dueland questioned the tenure of McNutt as a county commissioner and Houston's tenure as the director of the state department of corrections. "The reality is, in 10 to 20 years, it's going to look different," Dueland said.
"We have to position our county to consider a regional jail. Don't limit opportunities by locating on courthouse grounds."
McNutt called the "sales pitch to make this jail pay for itself" and numbers and proposals thrown about by Dueland and his supporters "pure speculation."
He continued that this board (of commissioners) "can't do business on pure speculation."
McNutt assured Dueland, Gene O. Morris and others at the meeting, "I still feel this board is being realistic. What we're proposing is more than sufficient for years to come."
He continued, "Realistically, we are looking at the big picture. (This jail proposal) will be sufficient to handle our needs for many years."
Morris of McCook has retained a Lincoln attorney, David J. Bargen of Rembolt Ludtke L.L.T., to look into his and Dueland's concerns about the commissioners' jail decision process. Morris told commissioners Monday morning that his goal is to take the issue "to a vote of the people. It's the right of the people to decide a matter of this magnitude."
Morris said that Bargen's fields of expertise are litigation, water and municipal law.
At their meeting Monday, April 16, commissioners will schedule town hall meetings to explain ballot language to voters.
Red Willow County residents will decide in the ballot booths May 15 how to finance the new law enforcement center, which commissioners have reiterated twice will be built on county-owned land north of the courthouse.
Voters will be asked to vote "for" or "against" placing the law enforcement center's 4 1⁄2-cent special tax levy outside the levy limit of 50 cents per $100 of tax valuation. McNutt said state law requires the successful vote of patrons for a special levy to be placed outside of the state levy limit.
If the vote is successful, the bond levy to repay construction costs of the jail would be outside the levy limit and in addition to whatever amount the county levies for its general budget.
If the vote fails, the construction levy would have to be figured within the 50-cent state levy limit and as part of the general budget.
Commissioner Steve Downer has said that with the fixed cost of construction at $5.1 million and with a bond repayment tax levy that decreases over time to 4.4 cents, he does not foresee huge increases in taxpayers' tax bill. He estimated that most taxpayers will see a 1 to 2 percent increase in their tax bills because of construction of the jail and law enforcement offices.