It's finally official.
Scott County Councilmen voted Tuesday afternoon, December 8, to provide $2 million to the Scott County Commissioners to finish the jail project.
Not that that amount of money is actually going to finish the project.
A recent $15,000 study performed by DLZ, the architectural and engineering company that lost this jail project on a 2-1 Commissioner vote in favor of RQAW, indicated that it will at least take $3 million to renovate the current jail into a facility that is complimentary to the new addition. And that amount goes up, depending on what is done.
RQAW officials reckoned that it would take at least $4.5 million. Or upwards to $6 or $6.5 million if the current jail is torn down and a new facility is built to replace it.
But $2 million is what the Council figured could be afforded at the present time, its thinking partially based on figures provided by Councilman Raymond Jones. All of the dollars will be cut out of the Hospital Fund, the money that Scott County received by selling Scott Memorial Hospital to a for-profit company several years ago.
On the plus side, any contingency funding left from the jail addition project will be added to those dollars. On the negative side, the Council was made aware that a change order totaling $115,000 was to be presented to Commissioners at their specially-called meeting on Wednesday, December 9.
Council tempers were slowly rising to a boiling point when members learned about the change order. It was for installation of lines and equipment so that electronics in the old jail can “talk” to the new jail's system and vice versa. Several Councilmen remarked that the work should have been included in the original contract. It left all of the Council wondering what else is not covered in the original contract.
The meeting began with another sticky issue: How many jailers is it going to take to operate the two buildings? According to a study Sheriff Dan McClain requested of a state organization, there are five options, depending on how much the old jail is going to be used. Suggested jail staff ranged from 4.5, the .5 representing a part-time person, to 9.5.
“Can we get by with the two (new) jailers we talked about (earlier this year)? I mean, you brought a paper in here and laid it down on this table and it said two,” Zollman reminded the Sheriff.
Sheriff McClain told the Council that for most of the two terms in which he has been sheriff, the current jail “...has been operating in emergency mode. We are overcrowded and understaffed. We've had a death in our jail. Our jailers followed procedures and they did a good job, but the death happened and it's a well-known fact that we have an overcrowded jail and I understand that's how (the case to be filed over the death) will be litigated.”
Fear of litigation has been a factor in the construction of the new jail block. The Sheriff said the jail population fluctuates from 140 to 150 daily. That's why he told the Council that, anything less than 4½ new jailers “...will leave us understaffed again. I can have another study done, but I can assure you, it will come back with the same figures.”
Councilman Chris Albertson asked, “Have you taken into consideration tearing down the old jail and building a new structure? How would that compare (on the number of jailers needed)?” And that was a question the Sheriff found hard to answer. “When you don't have plans in front of you, it's hard to say until the plans get specific,” he advised.
Councilman Zollman said his understanding of the new structure, one jailer would walk around the facility while a second remains in the locked control room. “How could that get any better?” he asked.
Sheriff McClain pointed out that the old structure, the present jail, “...is labor-intensive because of its design. I can't give you an exact number until I see some plans (of a renovated facility).” At that point, Chief Jailer Doug Herald spoke up, explaining that the new addition requires one person in the control room at all times. “But other staff is going to be needed to work with the prisoners. Currently, we have two per shift. That's low (according to the study submitted),” he said.
Councilman Jones is a man who believes in figures. He hauled out a wheelbarrow full, looking at the estimated income for 2016 Jail COIT (County Option Income Tax), the possible 2016 jail budget, which state officials have yet to approve, plus the estimated cost per employee of $60,516.
He came up with the conclusion after all these figures had been digested that the county can afford to add 4.49 (four full-time and one part-time) jailers. Certainly there are variables. What if state officials chop the county budget? What if Jail COIT doesn't realize the projected income of $900,000? What if Sheriff McClain can recoup some of his expenses by housing state prisoners, Levels 2 to 6 felons, charging the state from $35 to a possible $45 per day?
The Council finally took a vote to approve three full-time jailers and one part-time jailer plus leave in place the one new jailer which it had already agreed on, thus getting a total of 4.5. It failed on a 4-3 vote because salary items must have at least five votes to be approved.
The Council then got into what sort of work should be done to make the old jail workable. There were lots of suggestions, views and unhappiness around the Council table. “It all comes back to liability. Right now, I think liability is going to cost us big time because I think we are being dropped by our insurance company (because of the overcrowding issues),” noted Sheriff McClain.
Eric Gillespie finally remarked, “Definitely, the $115,000 is going to have to be spent, even if the Council agrees to tear down the present structure and replace it. I'm trying to come to some compromise so we don't waste the $115,000, so I suggest we renovate and at least that 'saves' our $115,000 investment.”
Sheriff McClain told the Council, “I'm not an engineer, but I have been informed it's going to cost at least $4 million to renovate it.”
Chief Jailer Herald pointed out, “No matter what we do, we have to run the old jail because it's going to take another year or 18 months to get the old part done.”
Zollman had about reached the end of his fuse by then. He said, “In a 2012 study, it said it would take $999,000 to remodel the old jail. You tell me how that figure got to be $3 million. But that's in the past and I've learned what's been said in the past doesn't pertain to anything now. So now it's going to be $17 to $18 million of taxpayer money for this jail. I am all for having enough staff to keep everyone safe, but I am definitely not for spending $3 million to renovate that old building.”
Later in the discussion, Zollman told his fellow councilmen, “I think I have made my position absolutely clear. This (project) has been a fiasco. As a councilman, I would be an absolute fool to turn over that amount of money to Commissioners. I cannot vote for this. I am not going to appropriate another dime. We gave (Commissioners) $11.4 million. The only way to keep control is to say no.”
The issue, giving $2 million toward the renovation, eventually passed on a 4-3 vote, Albertson, Zollman and Gillespie opposing.
Re-addressing staffing needs, five Councilmen voted in favor of allowing funding for 3½ new jailers, leaving the one new jailer already approved in place, thus giving a total of four full-time people and one part-time person who will work 24 hours a week.
Zollman did vote in favor of that, but Albertson and Gillespie voted against it; thus, the vote was 5-2.
Council President Iva Gasaway also asked for a motion that any money the Sheriff can make keeping federal or state prisoners and getting reimbursed by the Indiana Department of Corrections be placed in Jail COIT so that the money can be used to maintain the jail.
She got that motion and the vote was 7-0 in favor.
“So how do we keep control of what (Commissioners) spend the $2 million on?” asked Councilman Ab Watts. Gasaway suggested, “Have them submit a plan of action.” Councilman Jones added, “And require them to submit regular reports on how the project is going and where the money is being spent.”
To that end, Jones offered a motion requiring Commissioners to present a written scope of work to be done using the $2 million appropriated with an estimated time of completion which will make the facility “workable.” And that the plan be submitted before any of the $2 million is spent.
Commissioner Kelley Robbins, who had been present for the meeting, pointed out that “...you can't get a price until you take bids. There's no way!” He left wondering aloud how the Council expected Commissioners to create an accurate plan.
With Councilman Raleigh Campbell Jr. being called out of the meeting a few minutes earlier, the vote on this motion ended up being 5-1, Albertson apparently agreeing with there was a problem with the motion and voting against it.