Justice center funding denied for now

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Funding for the justice center project is on hold for now.

After a lengthy discussion, the Dubois County Council decided Monday to deny appropriating $4 million from the county’s local income tax fund and $1 million from the rainy day fund for the project. Council members instead want the Dubois County Commissioners to come back at a later date with more defined plans and costs for the project.

“The jail at some point needs to be built,” Councilman Craig Greulich said. “But I think right now, based on this whole situation we’re in, I don’t think this is the time.”

The council has discussed this funding at its last two meetings, which have fallen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, we know what’s happened. People have lost their jobs,” Council President Jerry Hunefeld said. “People have had their hours cut. People have been laid off.” He indicated that it is unknown how much that will affect future tax revenue the county receives, including the correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income tax. In addition, the jail population has decreased, but that could be due to the virus, Hunefeld said.

All council members expressed concerns about future funding.

“We don’t want to bankrupt families to do this project,” Councilwoman Becky Beckman said.

Councilman Mike Kluesner added, and others agreed, that he would like to see more firm plans and more a precise cost for the project.

While the council members can say that they want to see a more finalized design, they cannot dictate how the funding is spent on the project, Hunefeld explained.

“We are simply the money people,” he said. “We can’t say, ‘We’re going to give this amount of money and we want you, the commissioners, to spend it here but don’t spend it here.’ We don’t have that authority. We simply agree to provide the money, and it moves into the project account. The commissioners are in charge of how that all gets designed.”

Councilman Doug Uebelhor said that since the council doesn’t know how much is really needed nor how future revenue will be affected by the coronavirus, the council should wait before committing money to the project.

“Since now we have this opportunity to pause,” he said, “we should take this opportunity to see what happens and then reassess and go from there, when we know better what type of funds we will have.”

The Indiana Department of Correction is mandating that the county address overcrowding in the jail. An assessment done in 2017 by the National Institute of Corrections found that several areas of the county justice system could be improved, including having more programs to treat inmates’ substance abuse or mental and emotional problems, and increasing the security center’s staff. A state-mandated feasibility study completed last year suggested the jail facility should have between 244 and 270 beds to keep up with the need for the next 20 years. That has since been scaled down.

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.

The Dubois County Commissioners talked about the project, and said that they will have to work within whatever financial confines the council decides. At the moment, the design has for the community corrections center 120 beds for males and 50 beds for females. The initial design work on the center has been completed; now a more schematic design is underway to finalize details.




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