People deserve to vote
To begin, I would like to express my admiration for Don Neel. While others sit on the sidelines, Don had the courage to speak out in Wednesday's Gazette with his opinions about me and the jail issue.
That's the American way. Fortunately, in our nation, we have the freedom to express our opinions. That's as it should be, because when we engage in public discussion we can provide various viewpoints about issues, helping citizens and our elected leaders determine what the best course of action is for our communities, our counties, our state and our nation.
Concerning the jail and the jail site, my personal opinion is that the proposal put forth by the Red Willow County Commissioners is too expensive and does not serve the best long-term interests of the county and its citizens.
I fear, if the project is allowed to go forward, that it will put a serious strain on county finances, and could force cutbacks in future years in other needed county services such as road maintenance, and the clerk, treasurer, assessor, county court, and yes, even the sheriff's department.
Why do I say that? Look at what is proposed. To start with, the Red Willow County Commission is asking the citizens of Red Willow County to spend more than $5 million to build a new jail.
And then, on top of that, they are asking that we, the citizens of Red Willow County spend several hundred thousand dollars per year to operate the jail. I have not heard how much the operating expenses will be all together, but I do know that we will have to pay salaries and fringe benefits for a jail staff of 10. This is based on three shifts of two jailers for every day of the year, plus a relief and support staff of four additional jail employees. I don't know what the average salary, with fringes, will be, but I'm guessing it will be in excess of $25,000 for each employee.
That's just the start of annual jail operating expenses. In addition, the county will have the responsibility of feeding the jail population (which has been estimated to average 8 to 10 persons per day). That cost will add up quickly, because the county will have to provide three meals a day for every prisoner every day of the year. If the jail prisoner average is 10 on a year-around basis, that will mean more than 10,000 meals a year.
In addition to the jail staff and the meals for prisoners, there are a number of other jail operating expenses, including laundry, emergency medical care, electricity, heat, water, counseling, legal services and housekeeping supplies.
When all the expenses are added together, the total will be well over $400,000 per year, and could escalate higher in the future due to inflation.
The jail is not a necessity for Red Willow County. This is shown by the practices followed by the county during the past 20 years when Red Willow County prisoners have been housed in the jails located in Hitchcock and Frontier counties in Nebraska and Decatur County in Kansas. This is a much more economical method than the $5 million jail cost, plus the annual jail operating expenses, proposed by the Red Willow County Commissioners.
For purposes of efficiency and economy, the county could provide jail space at a cost far below the $5 million cost by remodeling the City of McCook holding cells which were inspected and approved for another year of use Feb. 8, 2012, by Nebraska Jail Standards' officials.
I may be right. I may be wrong. But I do know one thing for sure. As a citizen of Red Willow County, I deserve the right to vote on the jail question and so does Mr. Neel and all the other good citizens of this county. I appeal to the Commissioners of Red Willow County to allow us that right.
Thank you for letting me have my say.
Gene O. Morris,