County Commission work session to focus on jail expansion, crisis center funding questions

Douglas County Jail

The Douglas County Commission will consider the central issue of funding as it continues on Wednesday a series of work sessions concerning the expansion of the county jail and proposed mental health crisis intervention center.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the discussion would consider the sales and property tax options the county has available to fund the jail expansion and construction of a crisis intervention center. However, Weinaug said the discussion would include the timing of when county voters would be asked to approve the additional property or sales taxes needed for the two projects.

Although no decisions are expected, commissioners will discuss linking the two projects on a single referendum, presenting them as two questions on one referendum or putting them before voters in separate elections, Weinaug said. That final option would require commissioners to decide which project should be put before voters first, he said.

The county will also discuss details of using a public building commission to issue property tax bonds for the projects, rather than the County Commission issuing general obligation bonds, Weinaug said. The advantage of a public building commission is that debt that entity issues, which is to be retired with property taxes, does not count against the county’s debt limit of 3 percent of the county’s assessed valuation, he said.

Commissioners will take up the funding question two weeks after having learned that the estimated cost of the jail expansion has increased from $30 million to $38.3 million or up to $46 million. No cost estimate currently exists for the crisis center, which is being redesigned with consideration of other mental health initiatives the county is funding.

The county has, however, acquired the land on West Second Street north of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center where the proposed crisis center would be built. At Wednesday’s regular commission meeting, commissioners will consider authorizing Weinaug to negotiate a contract with the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority to build on the property up to 10 apartments reserved as long-term residences of those with with persistent behavioral health issues.

At the commission’s Sept. 27 work session, Shannon Oury, executive director of the Housing Authority, proposed a plan that would have the county build the units and then sell them to the housing authority for the $2 million cost of their construction.

Wednesday’s work session begins at 2:30 p.m. at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., with the regular meeting set for 4 p.m.