Council will decide on jail funding; likely to be money from income tax, property tax or both

The Allen County Council is finding it difficult to set funding for the new Allen County Jail.

The seven members say they need to know the design, location and cost and that information will come from the Allen County Commissioners.

To satisfy a court order from federal judge Damon R. Leichty, the commissioners designated the 200-acre Allen County Sheriff’s training facility at Adams Center and Paulding roads as the site for the new jail or jail complex estimated to cost $300 to $350 million.

But council members have balked at the number, calling it excessive for an 1,100-bed facility when the cost of one bed should range between $90,000 and $150,000.

“I think at this point the commissioners don’t know what the jail’s going to cost, the scope of it. I think they have some ideas on numbers of beds, but until Elevatus Architecture really designs a jail, I don’t think we have any way of knowing what the cost is going to be, and I don’t think Elevatus can really start to design a jail until they know where the jail’s going to be built,” council president Kyle Kerley said Thursday just after the council’s monthly meeting.

Kerley said the current choice is not a “slam dunk.” Community opposition has been vocal. Residents of the southeast say it is too close to Prince Chapman Academy and Paul Harding Jr. High School and would be a negative influence for the community.

There may also be issues with the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Kerley said.

More details on what the commissioners are planning will likely be revealed on Aug. 25 when they and Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux meet once again with Leichty to show their progress on short and long-term plans to reduce overcrowding and a lack of staffing that has led to inhumane conditions.

Leichty imposed his conditions on June 14 after he rendered his opinion on March 31, siding with the Indiana ACLU and inmates who sued the sheriff and commissioners in federal court.

Emma Adlam, a municipal advisor with Baker Tilly’s Indianapolis office, spoke at the meeting to present options her firm has already proposed to the commissioners. Those options include a jail local income tax or “Jail LIT” that would add either $53 or $107 annually to individuals making $57,000 gross salary, depending on the percentage the county chooses to tax.

The Jail LIT is the most common way municipalities have funded jails in Indiana in the last five years, many of them burdened with growing jail populations because of a 2014 state legislative mandate forcing county jails to house Level 6 felons rather than state prisons.

Is the council feeling any heat from the judge’s order? Since the council is not a named party, the easy answer is no, Kerley indicated.

“Now we know what some of the funding options are and what that might look like to each individual taxpayer,” Kerley said.

“The property tax only becomes viable under the instance of the judge orders – either a renovation or a construction. So if a judge mandates, that would put the property tax option on the table. Otherwise it would fall to council to approve a LIT or use cash on hand. I can’t say right now that council is leaning one way or the other. Outside there seems to be a consensus that we have quite a bit of cash on hand depending on our reserves. There could be as much as $100 million available.”

The advantage of having that much money on hand is it buys time “where we don’t have pursue a tax increase immediately,” Kerley added.

Commission? What commission asks Commissioner Nelson Peters

As for the new jail commission that Kerley and Fries were appointed to represent the council:

“Most counties that have gone through the process of building a new jail have established a committee or a commission that has a lot of key players in it. In our situation, we may look to having some members from the city as well.”

“We probably should have started this earlier. It’s important to hear from the people who are going to work in the jail. It’s important to hear from the judges – what kind of facilities they may need be it courtrooms or whatever. Even prosecutors, public defenders. Are they going to need space to meet with people?”

“I’m glad the commissioners are finally putting this together,” Kerley said.

Nelson Peters, president of the Allen County Commissioners, said he wasn’t aware of a commission being formed. He is aware that Kenneth Falk of the Indiana ACLU sent a letter to the local judiciary suggesting that a committee be formed such as the one formed in Marion County in 2006.

“Our attorney may have sent a note out (saying) ‘have you all considered what the ACLU attorney suggested?’ and that’s the last I heard of anything (until) I heard council people jockeying for a position on the committee,” Peters said late Thursday afternoon.

“It’s got to be someone from the criminal justice system that drives it. We’ve not commissioned a committee,” Peters said.

Jail design expected in December from Elevatus Architecture

Peters said commissioners expect to see initial jail designs some time in December.

“They can design up to a point, not knowing specifically where the facility will be located,” leaving room for the commissioners to designate another location if it is more desirable. There are two locations – one at 2911 Meyer Road in the county – that are undergoing environmental testing.