FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Despite Allen County Council opting for a lower local income tax rate hike than desired to build a new county jail, Allen County Commissioners believe designs for such a facility will not change.

A delay of a month or more for initial construction, however, is expected due to an “unanticipated wetlands issue” at the site of the proposed jail at 2911 Meyer Road, located between Fort Wayne and New Haven.

That’s according to a new U.S. District Court filing commissioners turned in Monday to a federal judge who previously ruled as part of a class action lawsuit that the current jail’s conditions violate inmates’ rights.

In a saga that has stretched out nearly two years, Judge Damon Leichty this month ordered commissioners to provide a status report on plans for a new jail in lieu of county council voting to adopt a .11 percent local income tax rate to fund construction of such a facility instead of a .2 percent rate – and then later a .15 percent rate – asked for by the commissioners.

While commissioners said in the filing designs for the proposed roughly $320 million jail will not change, initial construction of the jail may be delayed from an April 2024 target.

A proposed new Allen County Jail that will replace the downtown facility, which a federal judge ruled violated inmates’ constitutional rights.

In the filing, attorneys for the commissioners – who were named as defendants along with the Allen County Sheriff in the lawsuit that sparked the need for either a new jail or an overhaul of the current downtown facility – wrote:

“The Defendant was apprised last week that unanticipated wetlands issues have arisen,
which will result in delay. Specifically, there is a question as to whether the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction to issue a permit to deal with areas of wetlands within the proposed construction site.”

“That jurisdictional dispute will not be resolved until early 2024, which may result in initial site work beginning in May 2024,” the filing continued. “Depending on which entity takes jurisdiction, further delays could occur, but if site work can begin in May next year, completion of construction is not anticipated to be substantially delayed.”

The interior schematic of the proposed new Allen County Jail.

The commissioners also cautioned in the filing that additional delays could be caused by various citizen groups opposing the jail, who “continue to raise available administrative objections to stop the jail construction project,” attorneys wrote in the filing.

“While the Board of Commissioners does not expect that their attempts to scuttle the project will be successful, their efforts may result in delays beyond the control of the Defendant,” the filing said.

The commissioners said in the newest filing that they believed a minimum .15 percent jail local income tax plus some available cash would’ve covered the entirety of the new jail project.

The .11 percent local income tax ultimately passed by council will work in conjunction with that available cash and an economic development income tax – as long as “bids come in as projected and there is no significant unanticipated interest rate increase between now and the contemplated bond sale,” attorneys wrote in the filing.

The existing Allen County Jail downtown could be taken over by a federal master if numbers don't go down.
The current Allen County Jail

The commissioners expect the bonding process for the project to be done in late March, according to the filing.

Designs for the jail, though, will remain the same under the current .11 percent income tax rate.

“At this time, the Defendant does not believe that the selected funding mechanism and revenue stream will result in a need for design changes,” attorneys for the commissioners wrote. “The current design is for 1,334 beds in five (5) pods. The fifth pod is slated to be bid as an alternate bid, though, so that if bids/costs run higher than expected, that pod can be eliminated, leaving 1,086 beds in four (4) pods.”

“This corresponds to the Defendant’s prior submissions to the Court which indicated a proposed project of approximately 1,100 beds,” the filing continued.

Commissioners asked the judge to set the next status report for April 2024.