County gathers input on justice system options

Dubois County Security Center

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — The Dubois County Commissioners kicked off their Monday meeting with a morning discussion and public hearing on the future of the Dubois County Security Center.

Several attendees commented on the current state of the facility as well as its future.

One Jasper man voiced concern with the overall cost of the proposed improvement project. The three options outlined in a RQAW architecture study for the updated facility are estimated to be around $43.1 million; $50.8 million; and $50.1 million.

That same attendee also called into question the projected population numbers included in the study. The security center currently has 84 beds, and RQAW recommends the updated facility have between 244 and 270 to meet the projected average daily population demand in the year 2038.

The attendee said his concern was that the beds would sit empty for a while. He wondered how the county would justify having empty beds, asking if inmates from other areas would be brought in to fill them.

He said he hopes the commissioners look to reduce the total project cost and examine if so many beds are needed. Another man spoke about the importance of also increasing the number of beds for those in the work release program, since more people are currently in that program than are housed in the jail.

Sanjay Patel with RQAW explained that for the past five years, the jail has been consistently above capacity.

“Basically, the jail has been overcrowded for a while,” he said, adding that the factors that will contribute to jail population growth include the increase in drug-related crimes, an increase in the female population in jail, an insufficient amount of programming and state legislation.

RQAW’s study also shows that the average length of stay will shoot from about 36 days in 2018 to 73 days in 2038.

Recently, a petition circulated among downtown Jasper merchants stating that they are against placing the jail at the Old National Bank building at Sixth and Mill streets. Chad Blessinger, one of the three county commissioners, acknowledged that each of the commissioners did receive that petition.

“Once again, we appreciate the feedback,” he said. “And it’s important. If anything, over the time that I’ve been commissioner, I’ve always wished there’d be more feedback and more interest. But I understand people are busy, and this is what we’re hired to do.”

The Dubois County Commissioners are currently looking at options for expanding the jail facility, a duty mandated by the Indiana Department of Correction to address overcrowding issues at the current security center.

The Old National option would include adding a building on the east side of the site for the jail beds and a parking garage on the west side; the Old National building would also be renovated and used for administrative offices, and the current community corrections facility would still be expanded. The cost for this option is estimated at $50.8 million.

Another option is to expand on property near the current security center on Brucke Strasse. This $43.1 million option includes remodeling the current facility; adding on a building that will increase the number of beds at the jail pod to between 244 and 270 beds; expanding the community corrections facility; adding surface parking; and adding a building that would house the courts and a connector between the courts facility and jail.

A third, conceptual option presented by Patel would be a judicial campus at an undetermined location. The estimated cost of that option is $50.1 million.

Jerry Hunefeld, president of the Dubois County Council, also came to the meeting, and reminded the commissioners and the audience that the council did pass an ordinance that will institute a new income tax to help fund the costs for expanding the county’s justice system facilities. The tax will see a 0.2% increase on the current income tax — which stands at 1% — and all of the new contributions will be funneled directly into the future project.

Blessinger explained that the purpose of Monday’s meeting was to gather information and to get community input to help guide the study. Commissioner Nick Hostetter told attendees that his phone line — which can be found on the county website — is always open if they’d like to talk.

Commissioner Elmer Brames thanked all those involved in completing the study, as well as members of the public who have shared their opinions.

“And we will take all of those comments and the petitions and so forth into consideration, and try to make the best of it,” Brames said.

The commissioners also:

• Heard from Highway Supervisor Steve Berg regarding the 2020 county highway, road, street, bridge and solid waste collection budget. The budget was approved by the commissioners and will be discussed next at the Dubois County Council budget meeting on Monday, Aug. 12.

• Approved entering a mutual aid agreement with Orange County for paving on Celestine Road North, pending review of the document by County Attorney Greg Schnarr. A few weeks ago, a stretch of that road slid, causing a dip that was dug out, repaired and back filled with stone. The county approached private paving contractors to inquire about the work, but Berg said they are busy with work until September. Berg was not comfortable with that time frame. The road is busy and many drivers travel faster on it than what is recommended, he explained.

• Approved the paving of Spring Court, which is located in Northview Estates. The 740 foot road is currently gravel. The county holds a paving bond on the road that has met its criteria, and a request has been made by the developer for chip-seal paving. It will be worked in after the county’s other chip-seal projects are completed, which should be later this week, Berg explained.

• Approved the advertising of bids for a road grader. The grader is the final planned equipment purchase of this year. Bids will be opened during the commissioner’s meeting at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 5.

• Approved arranging the delivery of a rental excavator, dozer and sheepsfoot roller for work on a St. Anthony Road West project. The total rental costs come to $17,765 total, and the equipment will come from Rudd Equipment and Erb Equipment.

• Agreed to sign a construction and future maintenance agreement between the county and the Huntingburg Conservation Club regarding the club’s dam.

• Heard from County Engineer Brent Wendholt that reconstruction work on County Road 800 West is complete, with the exception of putting down seed and straw. Also heard that work on Bridge No. 255, which is located on Wernsing Road, was recently put on hold due to high water and the emergency repair required on a Bridge No. 220 on Jasper Dubois Road. Work began on the Wernsing Road bridge Monday.

• Approved paying the City of Huntingburg $190.24 for the county’s portion of the railroad overpass project invoice.

• Approved the creation of a new administrative assistant position at the prosecutor’s office. The motion passed 2-1, with Chad Blessinger voting against. The request will now become part of the office’s 2020 budget request.

• Heard a joint presentation from Cairnstone Benefits Group — the county’s insurance broker — and Activate Healthcare. Activate is currently looking at potential sites to launch a clinic in Jasper that could be used by county employees and employees of other private sector companies in the area. A Cairnstone representative said Activate aims to have the location operating in the city by Jan. 1, 2020. That representative explained that the company previously told the commissioners that the company was working on a clinic initiative for Dubois County, and over the last 18 months, Cairnstone interviewed vendors before selecting Activate.

• Heard from Ed Cole on the Dubois Strong and Grow Dubois County 2020 budgets. Like last year, Cole will request that the county give Dubois Strong $59,900 for its 2020 budget, as well as $40,000 for the 2020 Grow Dubois County budget.

• Approved hiring Lucas Gutgsell of Celestine as a 911 dispatcher. He will begin work on Monday.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com