The Allen County Commissioners will be going before the county council to seek funding for the jail, estimated to cost between $300 to $350 million.
There is an urgency there as they prepare to meet with federal judge Damon R. Leichty for a second status hearing on Aug. 25 to show him they have a long term plan to correct human rights violations in the existing downtown jail.
But it won’t be a slam dunk before the council which meets Aug. 18 for its monthly meeting.
Two councilmen, Paul Lagemann and Ken Fries, spoke with WANE 15 Friday, the day Commissioner Rich Beck made the announcement during the commissioner’s weekly meeting and jail update. They can’t speak for the 7-member council, but these ideas are swirling as they wait for the commissioners’ presentation.
Councilman Lagemann says the $300 million number is out of whack with what every other jail has cost in the state and region.
That number should look more like $200 million, Lagemann said, and before any financing is secured, county officials should consider $50 million in rollover money and $25 million in ARPA that would make a nice down payment.“
“We have the cash in the bank to be able to kick off construction. The idea of this $300 million bond, it puts $20 million in the bank this year, prior to construction,” Lagemann said, referring to a Jail LIT, or local income tax, allowed under state law.
The commissioners have said they foresee jail financing to be a combination of the Jail LIT, cash on hand and bonding. Advisers for the jail financing are Baker Tilly municipal advisors out of Indianapolis.
Former Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said he wants to wait to see what the commissioners present to the council.
“It depends on the scope of the project. Everyone is leaning on the fact that we have to have a new jail,” adding there’s a myriad reasons for it. COVID taught jail officials that negative pressure cells are a necessity.
“There were only serious violent felons being arrested (during COVID),” Fries said. “We can’t have that.”
The county is paying out “a fortune” for maintenance on the old jail and current manpower needs are greater in the old vertical jail rather than a new jail with a one story design in a POD system.
“Let’s do it right the first time. When the current jail was built, opening in 1982, it was smaller than the old jail it replaced. They had to start double bunking and triple bunking,” Fries said.
He’d like to see the jail built downtown, pointing out there’s 30 acres off Tecumseh. It would be closer to downtown and easily accessible to the downtown courts and administrative buildings.
Southeast side residents continue their objection to building the jail on the Allen County Sheriff’s training grounds at Adams Center and Paulding roads. The fight has been taken over by Fort Wayne City Councilpersons Sharon Tucker, Glynn Hines and Michelle Chambers.
At the meeting Daylana Daisy Sanders, co-founder of Changemakers, vowed they wouldn’t give up the fight until they heard that option was taken off the table.
After the meeting, Commissioner Beck was reticent to say what amount the commissioners would be asking council for. But on the subject of location, Beck said two other locations on the east side of the county are being considered.
One of those, as WANE 15 reported last week, is 2911 Meyer Rd, due east of the sheriff’s facility. Documents indicate it’s 25 acres, not big enough for the 60 to 70 acres a study recommended for a criminal justice complex.
The Jail LIT “doesn’t designate anything about location,” Beck said referring to the financing request. “They just have to appropriate the funds and the means to get those funds. There’s a very specific process we have to go through . It’s just one of those steps in the process to get the funding in place.”