Supervisors discuss possible bond issue for new county jail

By Rick Morain

Jefferson Herald

The Greene County Board of Supervisors on July 25 opened an hour-long discussion on steps to be followed for a public bond issue referendum for a new county jail, likely at the November 8 general election.

The referendum would aim for a general obligation (G.O.) bond issue, which would require an approval rate of 60 percent. The board’s discussion included Heidi Kuhl from Northland Securities and Kristin Billingsley Cooper from the Ahlers & Cooney law firm, both of whom would supply consulting and other services to the board for the project.

The new jail would be built adjacent to the county’s new law enforcement center, located in the former Midland Power office building on Lincoln Way at the east edge of Jefferson. The present jail, at Monroe and Chestnut Streets two blocks south of the square, is seriously in violation of state jail standards, and its design does not permit it to be satisfactorily remodeled.

The best estimate of the total cost of a new, 24-bed jail, assuming it were approved in November with bonds sold shortly thereafter, would be about $12 million, according to County Sheriff Jack Williams.
The current jail has just eight beds. The new jail would triple that capacity. The county has well over 100 guilty persons awaiting jail time who have been unable to do so for lack of room. Sheriff Williams explained that if state officials decided to order the current jail closed, it would cost the county $350,000 a year in bed rent at the Carroll County jail to accommodate the eight prisoners who would have to be transported there.
Kuhl presented detailed financial data for bonds spread over 19 years. She estimated an annual millage levy of $1.06 per thousand dollars of taxable valuation for the taxable cost of the bonds.
Although counties can select from among several options for financing jails, the Greene County supervisors indicated their preference for a general obligation bond issue.

The board will move ahead with plans for the November bond referendum, with further discussions at subsequent board meetings. Northland Securities will provide more public information about the project between now and the election.
In addition to the new jail, the board also discussed the need for a new 200-foot communications tower and E911 communications equipment. Those could be approved by the board itself following a public hearing without a public referendum, since they would fall under the classification of an essential county purpose.

Estimated cost of the new tower, and compatible new radio equipment for every emergency vehicle in Greene County, whether county or municipal, would be about $2.9 million for the tower and another $500,000 for the radio equipment.
The supervisors appeared to favor keeping the jail referendum and the E911 tower and equipment as two separate projects for purposes of approval.    
On another matter, the board approved County Treasurer Katlynn Mechaelsen’s semi-annual report for the six months ended June 30, and accepted her quarterly investment report for the period April through June.
The board approved the fiscal year 2021-22 county substance abuse prevention and treatment annual report. Those services are under the auspices of New Opportunities.
The board approved Carter and Elizabeth Soenen as Mahanay Maestros for playing the tower’s carillon.
Supervisor Dawn Rudolph was absent from Monday’s meeting.

The board meets regularly every Monday at 8:30 a.m. in the board room on second floor of the courthouse.

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