Justice center funding, design concerns discussed


JASPER— The Dubois County Council heard an update on the justice center project Monday evening, including the possibility of putting the judicial building back in the project.

They also heard concerns from a county judge about the design of the building.

“There are a lot of things that haven’t been discussed,” Dubois Circuit Judge Nathan Verkamp told the council.

Currently, the project includes improvements to the Dubois County Security Center, a new jail pod and expansion and improvements to the Dubois County Community Corrections Center. The idea of a judicial center, which would include courtrooms and space for the other justice offices, was in the original scope of the project but removed this summer because officials weren’t sure if enough money would be available.

Baker Tilly, the financial planners for the project, recently gave county officials some numbers of how much would be available for the project from bond sales, funding from the county and revenue generated from the corrections and rehabilitation income tax. The council looked over that information as Dubois County Commissioner Chad Blessinger told them about the updated financial outlook.

“This is giving us information we didn’t have then,” Councilman Craig Greulich said. He and Mike Kluesner have also met with the project architects and financial planners about the project.

The financial planners estimate that the project could have a maximum of about $42 million available. That would include $5 million the county council has committed to the project, money from the bond sales and revenue generated from the corrections and rehabilitation income tax; that tax was put in place last year. That could cover the entire project, including the judicial building, Blessinger explained.

Baker Tilly’s calculations for the C&R tax revenue factors a 10% decrease in revenue in 2022, 5% decrease in 2023 and a flat amount for the remaining term of the 20-year bond that matches the amount that has been collected this year. The amount that has been collected this year is $270,000 per month; the projection for next year is $290,000 per month. This assumes that no one’s income increases and that no new jobs are created in the county. Historically, there has been income increases and new jobs created each year, Blessinger said.

If the entire project in included, there should be $500,000 left each year in unused funding, he said.

Councilwoman Becky Beckman questioned if that would be enough to help with future costs for the judicial center, including money for treatment and rehabilitation services, additional equipment for the buildings, and additional staffing down the road.

“If we don’t get it out of this tax, it’s going to be a heavy burden on our regular budget,” she said, “to try to do that for the next 20 years. And when you look at it, then $500,000 doesn’t go that far.”

Councilman Doug Uebelhor also talked about funding. “We’ve gone back and forth on this, to get exactly what we want for the least amount possible, including rehabilitation (costs) and all that,” he said. “I don’t think we must use the money just because we have the money.”

Since removing the justice building from the project, Blessinger said that he heard from Verkamp about building a trial courtroom on or near the security center. Once that was shared, people from different justice departments said that it would make more sense for their offices to move as well, if the courtroom is constructed. Blessinger has also heard from people in the public, including merchants around Courthouse Square and from other municipalities who have said they support moving the justice facilities out of the Courthouse.

“In the last month I’ve heard pretty positive support from some of those same entities that I thought was 100% opposed to it,” Blessinger said. “To say that there’s significant support for doing it, I don’t think that’d be overstating at all, at least from those circles.”

Designs and work on construction documents are about 50% done. Adding the justice building back in would caused some delay in when the project is sent for bids. Currently the schedule is to complete the design and send out a request for bids in mid-January, open the bids a month later and consider the bids for up to two months before selecting making a bid award.

Verkamp told the council that he is concerned that the justice building, if built as it had been planned, would not cover the needs of the judicial system.

“We have not have one sat down in a room,” he said, “all the stakeholders — prosecutor, probation, clerk’s office, courts — and the architects, and really discussed our wants and our needs. We are basically being told what we need.”

The new judicial building had been designed with two courtrooms; but there are currently three courtrooms in the Courthouse, he said.

“It that makes no sense,” Verkamp said. “You’re going to build a building up here that doesn’t meet we our needs.”

Verkamp said that he suggested having a criminal court and court complex months ago, but did not get the opportunity to give input into the actual design. He also suggested putting probation and community corrections in the same area, but didn’t get feedback on that suggestion, he said.

Verkamp also said that if the county clerk is moved into the building, there will need to be space to a voting place. But the design he saw had one small conference room, which would not be adequate, he said.

“So when you’re thinking of costs,” Verkamp said, “think of all the things that haven’t been thought out because there hasn’t been collaboration.”

The justice building discussion will continue at the commissioners’ meeting Monday morning at 9 a.m, Blessinger told the council. They wanted to wait before making a decision, to give the public time to comment.

“Maybe we’ll hear from all of you,” Blessinger said, “or maybe we’ll hear from people in the criminal justice system or from the public. (We want) to see what their thoughts are before we say yes let’s put it back on or no let’s scrap it.”

The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the commissioners/council room on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.

The council also:

Established two part-time COVID clerk positions at the county health department, which will cost about $33,500, and consented to allocating $3,600 for computer equipment for the clerks to use.

Appropriated $100,000 for the county’s health insurance, $150,000 for the paving work on County Road 800 West.

Transferred $2,000 from a deputy line item to the comp time line item in the Dubois County Auditor’s budget to cover overtime costs, and $3,879 from other services/consultant line item to equipment line item in the Dubois County Local Emergency Planning Committee’s budget for a copier.

Approved appointments to various boards. A list of the appointments done by the council and commissioners will run in The Herald at a later date.

Set its next regular meeting for 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25. A year-end meeting has already been set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29. Both meetings will be held in the commissioners/council room in the annex.

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