As Webster County officials looked over several design options for a long-awaited jail project at a meeting last week, a silence fell over the room for several moments as it appeared possible that no consensus may be reached on the building’s design and subsequent cost.

 One of the concerns county commissioners had was the realization that the previously discussed $14.7 million cap they placed on the project might need to be surpassed to accommodate a modification to one of the designs placed before them last week. Nick Smith of Septagon Construction said at the March 15 meeting that it would be possible to modify one of the designs that would provide a three-level structure with a 150-bed jail, full jail support staff, full sheriff’s department and room to accommodate future expansion for courts and related offices. It would also provide for the option of expanding to a 278-bed facility down the road, if necessary. However, it was determined by Smith that the design would likely land the project somewhere around $15.3 million to construct.

As discussion continued on the modified design and a couple of the other options, which had slightly smaller price tags, but also smaller expansion space for the future and no more than two levels, Sheriff Roye Cole said he favored the modified design. He recommended utilizing the open bed revenue that will be generated for years after the facility is open as an additional funding source.

Cole said the $14.7 million limit the county set on the project includes revenue from the law enforcement sales tax (approved by voters in 2014), the GR30 Fund (used for capital improvement purposes) and nothing out of bed revenue.

“The premise of this is that we are building all of this on the sales tax, 80 percent of GR30 and zero out of bed revenue. And we’re just using bed revenue as a safety net,” Cole said. “I would say you’re going to pay now or you’re going to pay later. I’d rather pay now. I’d rather pay more for the project now than have to go back later and start paying for remodels and higher interest rates.”

After additional discussion, the commissioners agreed to include the bed revenue in the project funding, with associate commissioner Ward Jones motioning to accept the modified design option that will allow for the construction of a third level. Presiding commissioner Paul Ipock seconded, with the vote a unanimous 3-0 decision.

At the request of the commission, Smith, along with project architects Adam Kuehl and Shawn Harding with HMN Architects, Inc., will next work on three different external looks for the project along with expansion options and report back later in the month. A couple of those different options are expected to be selected to present to the public at that time with meeting dates yet to be determined.

In a March 16 interview, Cole was thankful for the commission’s vote the previous day and said the decision was the most significant one made thus far in the project planning. Regarding the higher than originally set budget, he said the open beds that can be rented out will bring in significant annual revenue for the county — between $200,000-500,000, maybe more, he said — when the new facility is up and running.

“The benefits outweigh the costs,” he said. “We can take that financial benefit and apply it to the court system.”

No additional staff beyond the 10-12 extra employees already being factored into the project cost will be necessary to accommodate any extra inmates that would be housed among the open beds. Staffing needs will be based on the facility itself, not the number of inmates, Cole added.

“We’ve designed this facility to keep staffing costs low. So by doing that, we can hold more inmates for other areas without having to address a lot of staffing issues.

“It keeps the overhead costs very low and that allows us to add more inmates at a relatively low cost,” he continued. “But it provides us a financial benefit from other counties. That can boost revenues to start saving up for a court system pretty quick.”

Knowing that other surrounding counties such as Greene and Christian are currently operating over capacity, Cole said he’s certain other sheriffs will be seeking to utilize Webster County’s new jail — a topic he’s already discussed with several of them.

“Given that we’re on Highway 60 and (Interstate) 44 in this county, it’s a tremendous service we can provide other counties,” he said.

While he was quite pleased and relieved with the sheriff’s department being included in the selected project design, Cole said it will still be imperative to work towards getting the court system included in the facility in the future. Including open beds as part of the revenue stream will be a way to do so without putting the county in a financial bind, he explained.

“Those revenues will decrease over time, and we know that,” Cole said. “But we take the bulk from the beginning and put it toward that court system. I’m going to start a fund the day we open the doors for open bed revenues and start trying to save that money.”

Understanding even after the new jail opens that it could still be several years for the courts to be in operation in the facility, Cole believes it will won’t be as long as some may think.

“I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later,” he said. “We’re asking people to be patient, but we want people to know we’re really trying to do it right.”

-via The Marshfield Mail