Residents question need for new jail right now


JASPER — Some Dubois County residents are questioning the need to fund a bigger security center at this time.

The residents spoke Wednesday during the Dubois County Council hearings on the county’s proposed 2021 budget.

“The concern that strikes me is the uncertainty,” resident John Birk said. “Until we know what the pandemic results are going to be and when the recovery occurs, and how quickly it occurs, I just wonder if now is an appropriate time to make a decision and sign off on what will be, as I understand, a $30 million obligation.” Birk added that there is also a need for more rehabilitation services at the facilities.

As part of budgeting plans, the council is planning to commit about $5 million to help fund the new construction as well as for making improvements to the community corrections facility. The bulk of the estimated $30 million project will come from bonds that will be paid off using future revenue that will be collected through the county’s corrections and rehabilitation income tax; that tax was put in place last year.

In 2017, the Indiana Department of Correction mandated that the county address overcrowding in the jail. An assessment done that year 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 feasibility study was completed and a plan was created to add more space, including beds, to the security center as well as to the community corrections center. An original plan for adding a court building near the security and community corrections center has been removed from this project.

Birk cited that several factors have changed since the original mandate.

“The change in the law for bail bonds lowering the amount of persons that have to pay a bail bond lowers the jail population,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies here [are] not arresting persons, but instead of issuing summons or notices to appear in court so that you don't have to be taken to the jail and staying overnight. That lowers our population.”

The jail’s population has been lower than the facility’s capacity in the last few months, he said, also adding that the current COVID-19 pandemic brings about uncertainty for residents, including financial uncertainty.

“We don’t know the income that our taxpayers will have to pay the income tax for the scale for quite some time,” Birk said. “Look, we have legislation at the federal level wanting to pay for stimulus to help persons, help our taxpayers right here in Dubois County that are hurting because of the pandemic.”

Birk said the county should wait before deciding to move forward with the project. “Maybe those voting downstairs right now have a different view on what to build, when to build, how much to spend on it,” he said, referring to the people who were voting on the first floor of the Dubois County Annex. Three of the county council seats are on the ballot.

Council President Jerry Hunefeld explained that the decisions on size and timing of the project are made by the Dubois County Commissioners. “The part that we have in this project is the funding money to do the project,” he said. “Some of what I have heard tonight really doesn't apply to this group. But I think it's a part of the [overall] discussion.”

Councilman Craig Greulich said that some of the funding is also going toward remodeling the current facilities to make them more safe overall for inmates and staff as well as to allow for space for rehabilitation programming.

“This is not a $30 million jail,” he said. “This is a whole system put together that probably cost $31 million.”

The council also mentioned that the bulk of the upgrades and expansion will be covered by a corrections and rehabilitation income tax that is already being collected. That amount will fluctuate, as the amount of tax revenue collected and the number of people employed and paying into the tax fluctuates.

The county’s proposed 2021 budget, which funds all county operations, departments and public services, totals $35,264,097.

The council also had public hearings for four other budgets. Those budgets are the Northeast Dubois County School District, $11,416,918; the Northeast Dubois County Fire Protection District, $114,500; the Dubois County Airport Authority, $5,614,602; and the Dubois County Solid Waste Management District, $311,852. State law stipulates that the council must also approve their budgets because they do not have their own elected boards. No one from the public had any comments during those hearings.

All budgets will be considered for adoption at the council’s next meeting, which will be at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.

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