Douglas County would have to spend between $6.5 million and $8 million annually for 16 years to build a proposed jail expansion in phases should this spring’s half-cent sales tax referendum fail, County Administrator Craig Weinaug estimates.
Those figures are in a memo Weinaug provided the Douglas County Commission in advance of its Wednesday meeting. Commissioners will meet twice Wednesday, once at 4 p.m. to consider their regular agenda and again at 6 p.m. to receive Weinaug’s report on what will happen if voters choose not to authorize the additional sales tax authority.
The sales tax, if approved, would raise an estimated $9.8 million a year, which would be used for the $44 million jail expansion and the $11 million behavioral health campus. It would also provide $5.1 million a year for new behavioral health programming and $1 million of the $6.1 million needed per year to operate an expanded jail.
Weinaug’s memo explores the annual costs of building the jail in phases. He said the consequences needed to be considered because the County Commission “has been very clear in stating that the jail needs are a legal and moral obligation that the county must provide, even if the voters fail to approve the sales tax initiative on May 15.”
The memo doesn’t make assumptions about how the proposed design would be broken into phases or what parts of the project would be built first.
To expand the jail in phases, Weinaug said the county would have to:
• Annually set aside $4.5 million to $6 million for jail construction.
• Lease temporary incarceration facilities for 50 inmates at a cost of $620,000 annually. It would cost another $905,000 a year to hire the additional correctional officers needed to oversee the temporary cells. Weinaug said the lease cost would increase over time because of inflation and the need to lease more cells.
• Continue to place some inmates out of county at a cost of $400,000 a year. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office currently spends $1.1 million to house inmates in other counties.
• Set aside $50,000 annually for higher utility bills and another $100,000 for miscellaneous costs.
Inflation would increase the construction cost of the jail expansion if it was done in phases, but that added cost from inflation was about equal to the interest payments on a 20-year bond that would finance the jail’s construction if the referendum were to pass, Weinaug wrote.
The county’s total cost to house inmates would be higher if the jail were constructed in phases because of the lease payments on the temporary cell units and the need for out-of-county placements, Weinaug said.
The county could raise property taxes — without voter approval — to pay for some of the expenses, such as lease payments on temporary cell units, additional operating costs, and the costs associated with housing inmates out of county. However, the county could not increase property taxes — absent approval from voters — to pay for the construction costs related to expanding the jail. When it comes to construction costs, the county would have to keep property tax increases within the state-imposed property tax lid, which generally caps how much of an increase in property tax revenue cities and counties can levy at the rate of inflation unless they get voter approval.
The money set aside for the phased jail construction “would have to be derived from cuts to the non-exempt portions of the county budget,” Weinaug wrote. The memo does not recommend any specific offsetting budget cuts. Weinaug's memo also does not address any ways that the county could generate money to pay for the jail expansion without cutting services.
When pressed by the Journal-World last week, county officials did confirm that the county's existing budget has $4.2 million of property tax money that funds mental health services. Those services would be eligible to be funded by a mental health sales tax, which would effectively free up $4.2 million in property tax money that could be spent on the jail expansion. However, county commissioners would have to decide whether to put another sales tax initiative before voters if the current sales tax proposal is rejected this spring. The current ballot question seeks authorization to spend tax dollars on mental health and jail expansion and to allow the county to issue debt for the jail.
It has been unclear whether county commissioners would support a mental health-only sales tax if the current initiative fails. Instead, commissioners have focused on their desire to see the current sales tax question approved.
Weinaug emphasized that in his latest report too. Expanding the jail in phases would not allow the county to address in a timely manner the needs of inmates with mental illness, the lack of space for female inmates or the decreased effectiveness of the jail’s re-entry program, Weinaug wrote.
"The human cost of failing to meet these needs is not measurable in dollars," Weinaug wrote.
The Douglas County Commission meets Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. To view the commission’s complete agenda, visit douglascountyks.org.
More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus• April 24, 2018 — A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion
• April 23 — Americans for Prosperity campaigning against sales tax in county referendum
• April 22 — At forum, Douglas County commissioner explains 'what if' option if sales tax referendum fails
• April 22 — Get ready to vote: Questions and answers on the Douglas County half-cent sales tax ballot question
• April 22 — 4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents
• April 20 — County says Justice Matters using wrong law to try to force mental health vote; group plans to start petition drive on Saturday
• April 18 — Douglas County leaders learn about first participant in diversion program for female inmates; Thellman cites Constitution on jail expansion issue
• April 17 — Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017 to reverse 5-year trend
• April 17 — Douglas County counselor: Meeting with Justice Matters about proposed petition would not be appropriate
• April 17 — Despite campaign literature to the contrary, county officials confirm there’s no legal finding that Douglas County Jail must be expanded
• April 16 — Douglas County legal counselor finds proposed Justice Matters petition legally invalid, but group says it can be fixed
• April 16 — What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour
• April 15 — Speakers at criminal justice, behavioral health forum look beyond jail expansion, crisis center
• April 14 — County-funded training expands number of peer-support specialists to share ‘been there, got better’ message
• April 11 — Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem
• April 9 — Douglas County Commission may be forced to put new mental health, tax plan on November ballot
• March 25 — Increasing population at Douglas County jail at odds with national trend
• March 22 — Advocacy group forms to support county referendum on jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives
• March 21 — Douglas County District Court chief judge defends court’s processes, agrees serious felony crime is increasing
• March 12 — County’s pretrial release, home-arrest programs diverting large numbers from jail, but not enough to prevent overcrowding
• March 11 — DA was more likely to grant a diversion in 2017, but number of people seeking them declined
• March 6 — Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offering jail tours, presentations in advance of spring referendum
• March 5 — Online behavioral health care site available free to county residents pending referendum outcome
• March 4 — Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says
• March 3 — Activist groups kick off their campaign against jail expansion
• March 1 — Town Talk: Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion
• Feb. 21 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says
• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says
• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax
• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject
• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them
• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax
• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding
• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question
• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there
• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives
• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court
• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually
• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County
• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health
• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot
• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming
• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery
• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH
• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan
• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design
• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds
• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say
• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars
• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects
• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget
• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests
• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority