Funding discussed for justice system upgrades

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Expanding and updating justice system facilities, and renovating the courthouse were discussed by the Dubois County Council Monday evening.

The council talked to County Commissioner Chad Blessinger about the plans, and how the estimated $40 million cost would be covered.

Plans call for adding to and upgrading the county security center, expanding the community corrections center, and constructing a court building near the security and corrections centers. The current county courthouse would also be renovated so that the offices left can expand and other county offices can move in.

Blessinger showed the council a sketch of what the court building would look like. It would house two courtrooms, with a third courtroom remaining at the downtown courthouse to be used when needed. A corridor would lead from the security center to the court building. Blessinger said this would improve security for the inmates, the judges and the court staff.

The building would also have space for the county clerk, small claims, probation department, the prosecutor’s office and Child Support Services. There will be conference and jury rooms, attorney rooms for lawyers to talk to clients and space for a public defender’s office, which a recent study of the county’s justice system by the University of Cincinnati’s Corrections Institute determined the county needs.

The current estimate for all the work, including the security center and community corrections expansion and county courthouse renovations, would be about $40 million at the most, Blessinger explained.

The funding could come from the $29.4 million generated from bond funding, $7 million from county funds, if the council approves that, and $5.4 million collected this year and next year from the new correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income tax. The tax revenue will then go to paying off the bond, Blessinger said.

“I think that will do all this,” he said, “the court building, improvements to community correction, the jail pod and the remodel of courthouse.”

Once the other offices move out, the downtown courthouse would have space for the other offices that are housed in the courthouse annex, including the county coroner, county surveyor, weights and measures, county commissioners chambers and council chambers. Blessinger said it would be best for the county veterans office to stay in the annex, because its at ground level and has handicap parking right in front, which makes things easier for veterans coming to the office. Councilman Mike Kluesner added that the county may want to keep the annex building for other functions.

A big concern for the council was about the tax revenue and if that money can be used for construction that is not associated with the justice system, like renovations for non-justice offices at the downtown courthouse. The estimated cost to renovate the courthouse is $300,000. Blessinger said the architects have said they could put most of the design charges in with the work being done on the justice system expansion and less with the courthouse renovations.

Blessinger said he asked what projects can be done using the correctional and rehabilitation tax funding. RQAW architects told him that their experience has been that anything that goes into the justice building can be paid for with the funds.

“It’s easy to say that probation is a rehabilitative service. The courts have rehabilitative services,” Blessinger said. “Even with his design fees, he said, ‘I can charge you a whole lot of design fees for the jail and almost none for this [courthouse] building.’ There’s ways to make it work. One hundred percent of cash would go to this building, and the [correctional and rehabilitation tax funding] would go to everything else.”

Kluesner said state legislators are working on getting clarification on what the funds can be used for.

Council President Jerry Hunefeld said that if the county wants to commit the $7 million for the work, $4 million could come from the current local income tax fund, $1 million could come from the rainy day fund, and $1 million per year could be committed from future LIT funding for the next two years.

The council will solidify its commitment at its next meeting, which is March 30.




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