County reconsiders jail siteThe Douglas County Board of Commissioners gave the jail site committee the go ahead to look into additional building sites for the criminal justice facility.
By: Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners gave the jail site committee the go ahead to look into additional building sites for the criminal justice facility.
Although the board had previously designated a minimum of 50 acres for a building site – as well as narrowed in on one potential 80-acre site – they lowered the minimum acreage needed to 25 acres.
The board, however, wasn’t in full agreement at Friday’s special meeting. Commissioner Jerry Johnson voiced his opposition to the jail project – he felt strongly that the board should halt all proceedings until a complete financial report is reviewed.
“We should wait and do nothing until we have those numbers,” he said. “I would like to know what the county’s financial health will look like 20, 30 years from now.”
Ehlers & Associates, the county’s financial advisor for the jail project, will further explain the county’s financial situation during the board’s meeting on August 2.
Earlier this month, the jail site committee recommended an 80-acre site located near the intersection of Highway 27 West and Nevada Street. Although a preliminary proposal and letter of intent to purchase the land was presented to the property owners, acquisition of the land was not final.
After reviewing an aerial photo of the site, commissioners had concerns about the amount of wetlands on the property. Prior to a decision to purchase the property, wetland delineation will be completed to more accurately determine where wetlands are located.
The board, however, is not yet actually purchasing a piece of property; rather, the jail site committee will continue to only review potential building sites.
“We’re not talking about buying [property],” said board chair Paul Anderson. “We’re not to that point yet.”
Johnson held strong, emphasizing that the county needs to “stop this thing right here” until the numbers are presented by Ehlers & Associates.
Commissioner John Mingus respectfully disagreed. “Properties that are convenient and have the right infrastructure are few and far between,” he said. “Will that property be available [down the road]? In order to look ahead, something has to be done. I’m not talking about purchasing property today.”
Johnson said the county needs to determine its bonding limits for a new criminal justice facility as well as plan for other bonds that may come up in the future before moving forward.
“I’m not willing to do even baby steps or call people on the phone to look for more property,” he said.
Based on the Douglas County’s taxable market value, it has a net debt limit of about $63 million (as of July 2005). The county’s existing debt is about $12 million, which leaves about $51 million available to bond – if necessary – for the criminal justice facility.
“We have a whole county to run. What happens to our good credit rating [if we bond for the project]?” Johnson said. “We stop here; August 2 is not that far away.”
Commissioner Dan Olson concluded, “All we want to do is authorize negotiations. It’s not going to cost us anything to do that. We have to know what some of these things cost before we buy anything.”
The board approved 3-1 the jail site committee’s request to look into additional criminal justice facility building sites. Johnson voted against it, while Commissioner Bev Bales was absent from the meeting.