Douglas County on Friday cleared a major hurdle for state funding of a proposed regional detention center for juveniles but still has a distance to go before the project is completed.
The county, along with the three other host counties, received reaffirmation of 90 percent state funding for the construction costs of the centers from the state Advisory Commission on Juvenile Offender Programs in Topeka. The decision will be forwarded to the state's Social Rehabilitation Service for contractual approval.
County Administrator Chris McKenzie, who represented the four counties' common position on the centers' funding, said he was pleased with ACJOP's decision.
"I FEEL there is a very strong commitment by this advisory committee, and I have very strong reason to believe that there is a similar commitment by the department of SRS, but I eagerly await the contract," he said. "I think there is a very strong likelihood the state will come through with the funding. We're all ready to put this thing behind us and go on."
McKenzie said the next step in the process was to have the SRS secretary approve a contract for the 90 percent funding. This approval could take less than 30 days, he said, but may take longer because SRS will have a new secretary soon.
THE ACJOP decision represents another peak in a succession of peaks and valleys the county has traversed in gaining funding for the center since being chosen as a site in October. Last month, a veto by Gov. Joan Finney reduced the state's contribution for construction from 90 percent to less than 50 percent.
After the veto, it was determined that a new docket fee collected by the state could be used for construction purposes. The four counties Douglas, Trego, Finney and Crawford decided to push for the 90 percent funding or tell the state they weren't interested in hosting the centers because of the burden of having the counties finance most of the costs.
THE DECISION also gives more life to the joint city and county proposal to buy downtown property from Allen Realty. The county is interested in the Allen Press building, 1041 N.H., as a possible site for the center. County commissioner Mike Amyx said Wednesday that the state funding was "the only way we can afford" the detention center, while commission chairman Louie McElhaney said he favored the site because of its closeness to the county courthouse and the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th.
Although the state funds are for construction of a facility, the county can use the money to buy the building and remodel it for the center. The county is considering using some of the building's space for offices, too.
MCKENZIE SAID he would report the outcome of the meeting to the county commission on Monday. At recent commission meetings, McKenzie has mentioned that an architectural study may need to be done to determine the feasibility of housing the center within the building.
The county and city also have some questions to solve before the purchase can be completed. Two city commissioners said a new appraisal should be done on the properties, which includes the old A&P grocery store, 1040 Mass., and vacant lots on Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. The county contends that the $1.75 million asking price represents a negotiated cost at which the sellers are willing to sell.
If the Allen deal fails to materialize, the county must find another site for the center. The state has mandated a Jan. 1, 1993, opening date for the four new centers.