It has been most interesting to watch the pro- and anti- machinations concerning the prospect of a new jail for Red Willow County. I have not attended any of the County Board meetings but like the public have read what has been published in the Gazette. Evidently, many individuals have strong feelings about the subject. Every taxpayer too should be interested because we are the ones who will have to eventually pay the bill.
What seems to be little understood is that commissioners are entirely within their rights in deciding to build a jail. Nebraska law requires the county to be responsible for our own citizen miscreants that deserve to be incarcerated. The charter is a bit hazy as to how and where those prisoners are to be held however the State Board of Corrections has developed a set of guidelines from which they certify and inspect the facilities used to house those prisoners. Therefore the county board has a choice, they can either rent jail space and transport the prisoners when required by the courts or they can build a jail of their own.
The design of local government is that of a democratic republic. It is not a true democracy ruled by majority vote. Officials are elected by qualified voters to represent the public's interests. Those elected officials, working within guidelines and laws approved by the state legislature then conduct the county's business. Other than voicing their opinion the public has little say in how the County Board conducts their business. Even if an activist goes out and secures a number of signatures on some petition, the Board is under no constraint to change their mind about an issue in dispute. Board members can be removed through court action for malfeasance in office -- a rare occurrence. The public's only hammer comes at the end of each commissioner's four-year term of office when the public can vote in a more suitable replacement.
Concerning the jail issue, a local voice has called for an election to see if the voters desire a new jail or want to continue renting and transporting prisoners. Presumably that election would also give the public a chance to determine the location of any jail to be built.
Somehow that kind of election, or plebiscite, is not set out by state law, so even if such an election were held, it would have little bearing on the county board's decision.
The county board has promised to let the public vote to decide if a new jail building will be paid for with bonded indebtedness or whether the cost of construction will be taken out of the regular county budget, the term being "lease purchase."
Through the years the Red Willow County board has been quite frugal in budgetary matters. State law dictates that the maximum that a county can levy for operating expenses is $0.50 per $1000 of assessed property value. The latest Red Willow County levy is $0.39/$1000 and it has averaged about $0.35 for years. If the public would vote YEA on a construction bond for a new jail then the county levy could stay around $0.39 and an additional amount to amortize the construction bond would be levied on top of the regular levy. Such is the practice of the schools to pay for recent school building construction. If the public votes NO, then the jail can be built anyway and the levy will of necessity go to the statutory cap of $0.50. That constraint may result in a little belt tightening for the county general fund. Either way, the county board can build the new jail and we payers will see our taxes increase commensurately.
During my time on the county board we determined that it was significantly less costly to rent jail space and transport prisoners than to build a new jail. Retrofitting the abandoned county jail building to meet the current jail standards looked to be equally expensive as building anew. Evidently, in the intervening years something changed to cause the County Board to decide to build a new jail.
The principal anti-jail agitator recently circulated a spread sheet to show current and projected "Red Willow County Law Enforcement Expenditures." His figures are sobering in that it shows rapidly escalating costs of "Jail cost per prisoner/day" of 2009 -$75.80, 2010 = $81.64, 2011 = $82.68 and 2012 (budgeted) = $85.70. Then, factoring in the bond payments and cost of additional sheriff's personnel to man the new jail the expense figures jump to 2013 = $230.14, 2014 = $234.66 and 2015 = $239.33.
Ugly! Kind of makes one wonder if a new jail is worth it after all. Maybe transporting prisoners wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Now as to the aesthetics of a new jail building next to the grand old edifice that is our present Red Willow Courthouse I have no quarrel. A small but loud anti-jail group of protestors seem mightily concerned the new building will damage the ambiance of "Heritage Square."
Balderdash. "Heritage Square" Sen. Nelson's boyhood home and bronze statues, Sen. Norris's retirement home and Gov. Morrison's home (what happened to the sign?) are monuments to those who prescribed to a liberal philosophy of government. Each were/are liberal politicians who were willing to spend vast amounts of government money with little regard to how their projects will be paid for. That liberal philosophy of spend, spend, spend is what has put our federal government in the huge deficit hole we are in today. I think that we should be a little embarrassed that we have produced such politicians. Their spending philosophy is quite counter to the fiscal frugality that most successful business men practice in Southwestern Nebraska. Perhaps a prominent jail building, a monument to wrong doing, is an apt addition to our sacred "Heritage Square."
Still nothing heard from Grannie Annie's soldiers in Afghanistan.
Still sending packages.
That is the way I saw it.