FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While Allen County Council members say they are waiting for more information from the Allen County Commissioners before they make a decision on the proposed local income tax that would fund a new jail, the Council itself appears to be divided.
The council has been working on funding a new $300 million jail on Meyer Road, and a proposal that has been nixed once but may come up for a vote again in the future is a .2 percent local income tax that would go toward constructing a new facility.
But some council members like Kyle Kerley and Ken Fries want other options researched, even though a 2021 study from the designer of the proposed new jail, Elevatus Architecture, provided numbers associated with two different renovation options.
“Personally, I’d like to see what it would cost to rehab the existing facility, if that’s even possible…what it would take to use, what we can reuse from the existing facility and, if part of the existing jail is not reusable, can we build an annex on a different site to get to the number of beds we need instead of building a brand-new facility?” Kerley said after Thursday’s monthly council meeting.
Kerley and Fries are two of the seven council members who’ve suggested alternatives to building a new jail.
The new jail, as proposed, is designed for about 1,300 beds that would include beds for a medical facility and mental health ward.
The current jail has 741 beds but is chronically overcrowded. A federal judge last year ruled in a lawsuit that conditions at the jail are inhumane and ordered the Allen County Commissioners and the Allen County Sheriff to permanently resolve issue.
Kerley said the Bud Meeks Justice Center, adjacent to the jail downtown, already has courtrooms and a jail lockup.
“We have some parts of the jail that I believe are reusable downtown. I think we should use what we have and either rehab what needs to be rehabbed or add on or just build what we need to meet the requirement of the lawsuit,” Kerley stated.
After a March 2022 opinion U.S. District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty ordering the county to fix the overcrowding and understaffing at the jail, County Commissioners began pushing for a new jail. So far, the commissioners have purchased property to build a new jail as well as hired an architect and a construction manager.
Now they’ve turned to the council for funding.
Kerley said the county might have to “build a secondary or an annex somewhere else to house prisoners that have been sentenced. Everything we can reuse would save us money on something we don’t have to rebuild.”
Council members have been speaking to groups like Help Not Handcuffs. Kerley said the activist groups have now changed from opposing any new jail to accepting the possibility of building alternatives.
”At least there’s been some collaboration between some council members and these community groups to say ‘hey’ we’ve got to find a path forward. We’re trying to be that ear that the community has wanted this entire process,” Kerley said.
Meanwhile, no re-vote on the Jail LIT tax has been set. County Council voted down the Jail LIT this past summer 4-2.
As far as the .2% jail LIT, residents can calculate what they would owe by multiplying their income by .002.