Douglas County Commission to continue discussions on viability of jail expansion project

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

The Douglas County Commission will continue discussing the viability of the planned expansion of its jail during its meeting on Wednesday.

According to a memo in the meeting’s agenda, the discussion will give the commissioners a chance to ask county staff questions about the project and discuss it among themselves.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman told the Journal-World on Tuesday that the meeting will allow the commissioners to have a formal discussion on the future of the jail expansion project, including how the county may need to proceed if the commissioners want to stop the project.

“I think we need that public conversation asking those questions,” Thellman said, noting she was only speaking for herself and not the commission as a whole. “We haven’t had the opportunity for a more formal public conversation … I think we’ll get further on that conversation on Wednesday.”

The jail has been a hot topic for the commission in recent weeks. On June 3, the commissioners had a brief discussion on the topic and came to a consensus to reexamine the viability of the controversial $29.6 million expansion project because the circumstances around it have changed. Specifically, the jail has seen a significant drop in the inmate population in recent months, and the county will likely see a decline in the sales tax revenues that would be used to pay for the project, both of which are believed to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the jail is facing a looming inmate population crisis because of the pandemic. Last week, Commission Chair Patrick Kelly challenged local criminal justice leaders to think of new ways they can decrease their usage of the facility. However, during a work session meeting last week, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and Chief Judge James McCabria said they are running out of options to do so.

Thellman said Tuesday the looming crisis may leave the commissioners without a choice on whether the expansion project can continue.

“We have got to address the crisis we’re in and that will hopefully change the trajectory for expansion,” she said.

In other business, the commissioners will meet with leaders from LMH Health and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for a work session to discuss the future management of the county’s planned behavioral health crisis center.

According to a memo to the commissioners, they will review a plan for LMH Health and Bert Nash to jointly operate the crisis center, which is planned to be constructed on the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County, located in the 1000 block of West Second Street. The crisis center is expected to be operational by the end of 2021.

The commissioners will also consider rezoning 0.5 acre of land located at 892 E. 661 Diagonal Road, which is in Lone Star, from general business (GB) and transitional agricultural (Ag-2) districts to a village district.

The property was previously zoned as general business, but when the county revamped its zoning codes earlier this year, it no longer conformed to the general business use. The property owner requested to have their property rezoned as a village district so the land’s use would conform with the new county codes, according to a memo to the commissioners.

The County Commission will meet Wednesday through an online video conference at 4 p.m. for a work session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meetings will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 995-9276-0073.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

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