Savings may wait, but new jail serving prime purpose well

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Red Willow County Sheriff Alan Kotschwar, third from the right, and jail superintendent Gerry Hunter, on the sheriff's left, discuss with Bill Barrett of Beckenhauer Construction, far left, and, on Barrett's left, Bill Huey, of Prochaska & Associates, "bugs" in a gas cook stove and the air conditioning in the one-year-old Red Willow County Jail in McCook. Accompanying them on a walk-through of the jail Monday morning were county commissioners, from Sheriff Kotschwar's right, Earl McNutt and Steve Downer, and, far right, Vesta Dack. (Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Gazette)

McCOOK, Neb. -- Red Willow County commissioners said during budget talks Monday morning that the county's new jail won't initially be a huge money savings over the transport-a-prisoner/rent-a-jail-bed concept that the county used for 31 years.

It is, however, serving its purpose well. "It's full most the time," said commissioner Earl McNutt.

Red Willow County officials "cut the ribbon" (they used a bolt cutter on a pair of leg irons) on their new jail a year ago Sept. 15.

With the new jail, commissioners swapped prisoner transportation, vehicle costs, wear-and-tear and mileage, transportation's risks, liability concerns and jail bed rental for 20 years of bond payments and the costs of running their own jail. The jail wasn't built with the idea of making a dollar-for-dollar trade; it's impossible to put a price on the peace of mind associated with not having deputies on the road with and exposing the public to prisoners in transit.

Commissioner Steve Downer said the new jail has increased public defender costs, and that more people are being locked up. "But we're not putting them in and out of cars," said fellow commissioner Vesta Dack.

"The bottom line is, no, it's not a cost savings," McNutt said, adding that it's a convenience to have some place for Red Willow County's prisoners to be housed close-by, without hauling them all over Southwest Nebraska.

Downer said that as far as the budget goes, it's easier to budget with known costs -- they know the cost of the bond is, in 2015-16, $328,987.50. Transportation costs and jail bed rent were only going up, he said.

Bill Huey, with the architectural firm of Prochaska & Associates, which designed the new jail, said that over time, the jail will prove a better expense than prisoner transportation and bed rent. As capital costs for the jail are paid down, the county will see a savings, Huey said.

McNutt pointed out the advantage of jobs created with the new jail -- one jail superintendent, 13 jailers and the kitchen staff to prepare prisoner meals. "That's a positive ... a very good thing," Dack said.

Another good thing that has developed since the jail opened a year ago is the housing of prisoners for outside law enforcement agencies. "That's a plus we didn't figure in," Downer said. Commissioners did not want the new jail's budget to depend on the revenue of housing prisoners from other agencies. If it happened, great. If it didn't, it wasn't lost revenue.

With no comparisons from previous years, commissioners and jail and sheriff's department officials estimated expenses for the jail's first year. "We like to think they were educated guesses," Dack said. Other than a gas stove that's burning the cookies as well as the pot holders and an air conditioner that's freezing out the office staff (47 degrees is cold), the first year of the new jail hasn't produced any big surprises.

The budget for the jail's second year, for 2015-2016, breaks down this way:

Personnel services: $425,750

Operating expenses: $325,050

Supplies and materials: $85,000

Equipment rental: $3,000

Capital outlay: $67.500

Total expenditures: $906,300

Jail bond: $328,987.50 ($220,000 principal; $108,587.50 interest, $400 legal fees)

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  • Wish the new facility would have been built to the standards needed to house inmates from WEC that need to be removed from WEC. The county could have made some money from the state housing those inmates, the state could have saved money transporting to Holdrege and WEC would have had another staff person available to supervise road crews instead of transporting.

    -- Posted by dennis on Tue, Sep 1, 2015, at 3:25 PM
  • Wish the jail would have been built to standards that would allowed the state to use the new county facility to house inmates removed from WEC. The county could have made some money from the state for housing those individuals, The state (taxpayers) could have saved money by not transporting to Holdrege. WEC could have had a staff person available to do work crew supervision instead of transportation.

    -- Posted by dennis on Tue, Sep 1, 2015, at 3:29 PM
  • The old jail downtown was able to house individuals from WEC. This jail is built above and beyond the old jail. Sounds more like an issue with DCS as opposed to not meeting certain standards. There was/is actually a contract with DCS and Red Willow County to hold inmates. Maybe Red Willow County was just tired of not getting paid for housing their inmates.

    -- Posted by homebuilder on Tue, Sep 1, 2015, at 4:42 PM
  • Too bad when we measure the success of SW Nebraska, and McCook in particular, by a "full house" in the jail!!!

    Is this sad, or is it just me????

    -- Posted by SWNEvacuee on Tue, Sep 1, 2015, at 10:57 PM
  • I remember thinking I hated what was called SRA in school when I was in fifth grade. Little did I know then, how handy it was going to be later in life to actually read an article in print and be able to comprehend what it says.Well alr.....

    -- Posted by hulapopper on Wed, Sep 2, 2015, at 3:38 AM
  • State officials said the new jail does not meet the standards necessary to hold WEC inmates and the standards were in place prior to the new county jail being built. . I have no knowledge of the state placing folks in the old city jail or if the state failed to pay the city. I would guess the state pays or North Platte and Holdrege would not accept them.

    -- Posted by dennis on Wed, Sep 2, 2015, at 9:19 AM
  • State officials say the new jail does not meet their standards and the state standards were in place prior to the construction of the new jail. I have no knowledge of the state placing inmates in the old city jail and if they did I have no knowledge of them failing to pay. I would guess the state pays or Holdrege and North Platte that now accepts the WEC inmates, would not take them. This would be a good investigative story for the Gazette to cover and clear up by getting the facts out one way or the other.

    -- Posted by dennis on Wed, Sep 2, 2015, at 9:25 AM
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