(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
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A Red Willow County sheriff's deputy told the 45-50 people gathered in McCook for a community meeting about financing the county's new jail that, as a McCook police officer, he responded to violent domestic disturbances and drug problems at the apartment house on the corner and also throughout the course of investigation of burglaries.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Tom Buresh of McCook, a parishioner at St. Alban's Episcopal Church across the alley west of the former apartment house, told those at the meeting he's terribly concerned about the jail being built so close to his church. Deputy (and former McCook police officer) Justin Davis told him that the new jail will hold some of the same types of people as the old apartment house "just outside your back door, but they'll be in jail and contained. It's just a different way to look at it."
Buresh stepped off the distance between his church and the proposed jail. "It'll be this close," he shouted, motioning to the 20-or-so-foot distance. He said he is upset that the jail study committee did not ask courthouse neighbors about building a jail across the alley. The church has been at that location for 120-128 years, Buresh said, longer than the courthouse. "We would have liked some consideration," Buresh said.
John Hanson told Buresh that church members had indeed talked about the location of the jail. "You were late," Hanson told Buresh; Buresh replied, "Your memory's gone ... you must have been under something."
Buresh said he does not want prisoners outside the back of his church and its Canterbury House (office complex and McCook Food Pantry), and is concerned with the risk of escape as prisoners are loaded into and out of patrol vehicles. Sheriff Gene Mahon showed Buresh on drawings of the jail that prisoners will be loaded and unloaded inside an enclosed "sally port" on the alley-side of the jail and law enforcement center.
McNutt said that 80 to 90 percent of all of Nebraska's 73 jails are built next to the courthouse, in or near downtown areas.
Retired Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. Marshall D. Grant of McCook agreed. "It's very rare that a jail isn't in the courthouse or next to the courthouse," he said.
Grant said he can't see any problem with the Norris Avenue location of the jail. He concluded, to loud applause, "The only problem I have with it is that the county should have done it 25 years ago."
McNutt said that a long-time commissioner told him his only regret is using jail sinking funds to remodel the courthouse, and not using the $1 million set aside to build a jail. One million dollars would have built a jail then, McNutt said. McNutt said that low interest rates make the project very attractive now.
The county's jail closed in 1983, when state officials declared that it did not meet jail standards.
While the original jail bars remain in the sheriff's office next door to the courthouse, the jail cells are not used, and prisoners are housed in jails in Frontier, Hitchcock, Dawson and Phelps counties in Nebraska and in Decatur County in Kansas.
It's during transport to and from jails and especially in and out of vehicles that Sheriff Mahon sees the highest risk, to officers, prisoners and the public. Having the jail close to the courthouse would reduce and/or eliminate that liability, Mahon said.
Mahon told Randy Dean that while Red Willow County did not intentionally plan on housing prisoners for other counties as officials worked with jail consultants and designers on a jail for Red Willow County, it is possible that neighboring counties will utilize the new jail, especially if they have prisoners classified at too high a risk or special need for their own facilities.
Ron Nielsen of McCook said he is concerned whether the Norris Avenue site will be large enough for a new courthouse when the existing courthouse is torn down in 50 to 100 years, and whether either the new jail or the existing courthouse has a bomb shelter. McNutt told Nielsen that compressors will be located in an enclosed maintenance "penthouse" on the roof of the new jail, cutting down on compressor noises similar to those that Nielsen hears from the junior high in McCook.
Steve Batty said his "heartache" is that the proposed exterior of the jail does not match the existing courthouse or any other buildings in the immediate area. McNutt explained that the differing designs of the historic courthouse and the new jail is architects' effort to create a separation between the new structure and the existing courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
McNutt told Pam Wheeler of McCook that expansion of the jail, if it becomes necessary, would indeed cost more money, but that building up -- a second story -- is normally seen as more expensive than expanding a building's footprint. Most of the northern-most lot will be used for landscaping, for aesthetics, McNutt said.
McNutt assured Wheeler that the 24-bed design, with expansion to 36 beds built into the facility, will cover the county's needs for many years to come.
Dale Dueland, a McCook resident outspoken about building a jail -- where it is located and what size it will be -- said the county should not be looking back at jail trends, but ahead to the possibility of regional jails similar to the progressive approach used by Colorado. "We don't need 73 dispatching teams," Dueland said, adding that Nebraska does not have the population to support 73 new jails.
Dueland questioned the wisdom of Valentine and David City building their new jails near their courthouses. "Maybe they didn't have someone to ask questions about their locations," Dueland said.
Dueland said that building a new hold-and-transport facility -- rather than a jail and law enforcement center -- "is not the most convenient, but it is less expensive." He told McNutt and fellow commissioners Vesta Dack and Steve Downer, "The right questions weren't asked of the architects," adding that architects and the county's jail committee "obliged" county commissioners when they recommended building a new jail and law enforcement center next door to, but not attached to, the courthouse.
McNutt told Dueland, "Dale, if you're so sharp, why didn't you step up and volunteer to serve on the jail committee?
Linda Taylor, a McCook resident and a former member of the McCook City Council, said that the new jail in North Platte is using video conferencing between prisoners and judges. "This is the wave of the future," Taylor said.
Chief Deputy Alan Kotschwar said that the use of video conferencing is up the judge, but that it is most commonly used only during arraignments, when a prisoner is informed of the charges against him/her and asked if he/she wants a court-appointed attorney. Video conferencing capabilities may be built into the new facility, he said, but added that he does not know of any county in Nebraska now using video during trials.
Todd Cappel, a Red Willow County resident and rural McCook resident, asked whether the City of McCook -- now that it is out of the jail business -- will reduce its budget by the $500,000 that it spent to operate the 96-hour holding facility located in the public safety center that the city will move out of when its new municipal building is completed later this year.
Cappel asked Dueland if it isn't a conflict of interest that he does not want a new Red Willow County jail because Frontier County -- where Dueland's farm land is located -- will need to raise its taxes to replace jail bed contract funds when Red Willow County has its own jail.
Cappel also pointed out that Dueland's arguments against the jail have wavered among discontent about it being built near the Frank Lloyd Wright house, that it is too big for the Norris Avenue site, that it's too small for the greenspace site near Nebraska's work camp, that a hold-and-transport facility would be less expensive. "Even citing Colorado!" Cappel said.
Robert Carlson suggested that the county send Dueland to law school so that he can prosecute prisoners without needing a jail. "I'm too old for that," Dueland said.
Roberta Felker of rural McCook asked why people upset with the jail process have not attended commissioners' meetings. She admitted she and her husband may have been against the jail if they hadn't attended meetings, listened to presentations from professionals and watched a video about the placement of jails near courthouses.
McNutt said he appreciates Roberta's and Dorwin's commitment to attend commissioners' meeting. Taylor suggested having the commissioners' meetings in the evening, as the city council does.
McNutt said the commissioners so often have to do business with other elected county officials who are readily available in the courthouse during day-time meetings.
Dick Cappel of McCook urged people to concentrate on the bond issue -- whether to place the jail's construction bond levy inside or outside the general levy. He encouraged people to vote to place the construction bond levy outside of the general levy, or be faced with reductions and/or cuts in county services. "They (commissioners) made the decision (to build the jail). We need to live with it," he said.
Hansen agreed. "Responsible people have acted. We need to go along with it," he said.
Dueland continued, saving that as an economist, a business manager, as someone with experience with banking, numbers presented by commissioners are disputable. He admits that a jail "will be good for McCook," but he is still not convinced about its location. "I've just worked for the last 10 months to convince them (commissioners) of a lesser expensive option," Dueland said.
The next community meeting to explain the bond issue will be Thursday, at 7 p.m., in the community building in downtown Bartley.