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Commissioner: Financing plan 'risk management'

Friday, April 27, 2012

Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioner Steve Downer explains the ballot that will allow voters to decide where to put a bond levy to build a new county jail -- inside or outside the county's levy limit.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
INDIANOLA, Nebraska -- Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioner Steve Downer spent about 10 minutes Thursday evening explaining his stand on the bond levy to finance a new county jail, and about 50 more minutes deflecting attacks from a determined and disgruntled McCook resident about the commissioners' decision process to build the jail.

Downer told 13 people in the Indianola Community Room that placing the 4 1/2 cent bond levy to build the $5.1 million jail outside the county's 50-cent levy limit is "like risk management," protecting the county's budget from state and federal legislation that so often trickles down to impact county budgets.

The county's current levy is $.380743, which gives 11-12 cents of "wiggle room" before reaching the limit of 50 cents, but Downer said commissioners do not want to crowd the general levy so close to the limit.

Downer said that if the state takes inheritance taxes away from counties -- as it threatened to do earlier this year -- in Red Willow County that would have a bigger impact than the jail bond. There is also the possibility of counties losing highway allocation funds from the state, Downer said, if the state decides to build another lane of interstate highway.

The jail bond levy would be paid off in 20 years, at a rate of $346,000 a year. Downer said the impact of the bond levy on a $100,000 home will be an additional $46 a year in taxes.

A vote "for" on the May 15 ballot places the bond levy outside the general fund levy limit of 50 cents and in addition to whatever amount the county levies for its general budget. A vote "no" places it within the 50-cent general fund levy limit. The county has no other levies outside the levy limit, Downer said.

Although Downer told Dale Dueland of McCook that the decision to build the jail has already been made, and that the only question now is where to put the bond levy, Dueland argued that the 24-bed jail is too big for the Norris Avenue location and too small for a greenspace location on North Highway 83. Dueland said the county "should rent beds 'til kingdom comes" if it is cheaper than building.

Dueland's earliest arguments against the jail centered around his objections to it being built across the street south of a home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and on what he called "historic Norris Avenue." He has since expanded upon that argument with his concerns about construction and operational costs.

At the meeting in Indianola, Dueland called the proposed jail "a very inefficient financial disaster. A corporate board would laugh you out in 15 seconds," he told Downer.

Dueland said the jail can't be expanded on the Norris Avenue site, but he would like to see a larger prisoner-jailer ratio and more jail beds (up to 72 beds) to improve efficiency, on land available for sale (for $40,000 to $60,000, according to Dueland) south of the state's work ethic camp in McCook.

Dueland told those at the meeting that he has a real estate license. His farm land is in Frontier County, which he said will probably have to raise taxes to replace the approximately $98,550 that it will lose when Red Willow County no longer rents beds in the jail in Curtis.

Sheriff Gene Mahon corrected Dueland when Dueland said the proposed jail could hold juveniles, that he sees segregated cells in the blueprints that would be appropriate for a juvenile prisoner. The proposed jail will hold only adult male and female prisoners, Mahon said. "Almost everyone in the state has to transport juveniles," Mahon said, to lock-down juvenile facilities in Gering and Wayne. North Platte has a juvenile facility, he said, but it is not a locked-down facility.

Juveniles charged with minor in position are held in officers' offices until their parents come to retrieve them, or if it's absolutely necessary, transported, Mahon said.

When Dueland started to complain about "inconsistencies" he sees in the jail study compiled by Prochaska and Associates, Downer told him, "It doesn't matter. It's a made decision."

Sheriff Mahon defended the county's jail study committee, telling Dueland that the committee had a good representation of residents from throughout the county. "The commissioners did not make this decision on their own," Mahon said.

Dueland continued to talk about his concerns with the professionals' study, saying that Prochaska and Associates and the jail study committee "concocted a lot of -- I don't know what you want to call it -- in that study." Dueland told Downer that it "raises big question marks that you guys did your job. You have squeezed every drop of lemon juice from that lemon."

One rural Indianola resident supported the commissioners' decision to build next door to the courthouse. "I feel safer knowing you're not hauling prisoners all over the state," she said. Another said "it's only common sense," to build next to the courthouse, for safety and security reasons for prisoners, officers and the public. And, she told Dueland, she does not ever see the county getting 50 prisoners.

Dueland told Downer that commission chairman Earl McNutt said earlier that commissioners could stop the jail process at any point. Downer said, "Yes, two votes could stop it. One of those is not mine."

Downer told Dueland that every elected board in the world encounters a person such as him. "If every board backed down, nothing would ever get done," Downer said.

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Great job Commissioners stick to your guns and get the new jail built exactly where the old jail was for past 130 plus years. Bottomline is anybody complaining on location should have known that a jail would be rebuilt/replaced in same location and had years to make arguements or buy all property around before the county bought it for the jail in recent years. Its only local property owners fault they bought property next old old jail location and now where new jail is being built i guess they should have protected their visions of the area with their checkbook because all this land was available for all to buy for years?..

I still think it would be interesting today to see if jail location protesters/Morris gang actually have a big enough checkbook to buy out RedWillow countys jail location costs to protect their vision of Norris Park/Wright Home vs already expensive cost paid for already for the planing/studies/property/planing costs or are they just planning to stick additional cost if somehow they were able to change location of jail at this late time and give that big expense also to the local Redwillow county taxpayers??

-- Posted by Cornwhisperer on Mon, Apr 30, 2012, at 11:29 AM

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