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County board pushes ahead with jail plan to present to public March 19

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf answers commissioners' questions about his recommendation on the size of a new jail. He is pictured with TowerPinkster senior project manager Eric Hackman.

Rebecca Pierce


The date will be March 19.

The start time will be 7 p.m.

The location is yet to be determined.

The purpose: A forum to pitch a potential jail project to Barry County, with the size and price tag attached.

The site is still a question.

County commissioners are leaning toward a facility with an eventual capacity for 136 inmates at a cost not to exceed $26 million with a request going to the voters in the August election. That was the upshot of the board's committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.

Eric Hackman, senior project manager from TowerPinkster, said he would draw up a plan with graphics and pictures of what jails look like, an estimated guess on cost, and define it as a 108-bed project with a master plan for an additional 28 beds if growth is experienced.

“The goal for today is to prepare for our next community forum,” Hackman told commissioners, “to essentially test a position out in the community and get their feedback to see if that’s something you want to go forward with on the ballot.”

The Commission on Aging, which had originally been part of discussions at several community forums over the past several months, is no longer being considered as a project requiring a millage request.

In a Feb. 24 letter, COA board chairwoman Sandy Kozan asked commissioners to find another way to cover the cost of a new COA building without putting a millage vote on the ballot.

“We appreciate your efforts on behalf of the older adults of Barry County and pledge our commitment to work with you on this difficult but important project.”

In his encounters with citizens, Hackman said he heard, “pretty much, consensus that the jail needs to be replaced. I didn’t hear much from the community not to replace the jail. The criticism was, largely, why has this taken so long.”

Commissioner Ben Geiger asked, “What’s the most important question that this board of commissioners has to decide right now?”

“What do we want to put in front of the community to discuss at the third community forum which would be a precursor to what your thoughts are to putting something on the ballot. That would give you feedback from the community as to how to go forward with a ballot initiative.”

April 17 is the target date for developing the language that would appear on the ballot, he noted.

Commissioner Howard Gibson asked if the location of a new jail could make a difference in the size of it.

Hackman said it could. “If you choose to negotiate, don’t box yourself in. Allow yourself to find an economical site.”

Some people have told commissioners they are not going to support a new jail unless they know where it will be located.

But Commissioner Heather Wing said disclosing the potential site for a new jail could hamstring the county.

“If we discuss too many of those options, we open the door to a developer going in and buying the property and then charging a higher cost,” Wing said.

“We haven’t discussed it because it ruins our options. At some point, the community has to trust that we’re doing the best.”

On the cost of the project, which some commissioners pegged at $26 million, Wing called it “a ballpark figure. Our goal is not to spend what we’ve been approved to do – it’s to come in under budget.

Commissioner Vivian Conner asked Sheriff Dar Leaf for his recommendation on the size of the facility. Should it be a 108-bed facility, Conner asked, “after everything we've heard from judges and others, will that be enough?”

Leaf did not answer her question directly.

“Looking at 50 years down the road, with Supreme Court justices' recommendations, if those recommendations work ...,” he said. “Barry County is going to grow with all the lakes around here. ...

“Looking at the long term, will 108 beds be enough? Probably, but a change in judges with one trying to make a name for himself. Court rules? How’s that going to effect it? You’re going to have judges who want to fill it.

“If you build it, they will fill it. There are quite a few factors [to consider].”

“So, what is your recommendation?” Conner asked.

Leaf said a 108- or 122-bed facility would likely be his choice.

If the county couldn't fill the space, would it fill the beds with inmates from other counties, Commissioner Dan Parker asked.

“We can always rent space out,” Leaf said, adding that “the more beds, the more staff you need to watch ‘em.”

“I can't help but think this county is going to grow in 50 years,” Parker said. “I think you're better off with a higher number than a lower number.”

Leaf suggested the county build more than it needs, but don't open those spaces until they're needed.

Hackman said they could target a facility in the $26 million range, then try to build out in the future.

“Labor cost is your No. 1 expense,” he said.

“There are so many what-ifs,” Leaf said. “What if the state decides it wants to cut down on their numbers?  Where are they going to put them? Are they leaning on the sheriffs for that?”

“So, you're leaning toward the 136-bed?” Conner asked.

Hackman replied, “That’s my recommendation.”

In other action:

• Wing chose Conner, Dave Jackson and Gibson to serve on the ad hoc committee to research the Commission on Aging. The motion was made by Jackson and supported by Jon Smelker.

• Parker updated commissioners on the county's parks commission applications process for grants to schools and municipalities.

• Drain Commissioner Jim Dull asked for an increase in hours for part-time drain maintenance worker. The board recommended approval of his request.




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