After much discussion and consideration of county residents’ input, the Bourbon County Commission decided during their meeting Tuesday morning to not purchase another jail pod, which would have added 16 more beds to the new law enforcement center.
The plans for the jail began with 74 beds, but included an option for adding one more pod to increase that to 90 in case they found that the jail was filling up with local and out-of-county inmates. Sheriff Bill Martin said that, in communicating with other counties and their law enforcement agencies, most encouraged them to not limit their bed space, such as Cloud County, whose jail built just two years ago is already overflowing.
The present jail currently has 48 inmates, while six had to be moved out of the county because there was not enough space. Martin said they have also had to turn away other counties asking if Bourbon County could house some of their inmates.
Citizens present at the meeting spoke against adding the pod, which would add more than $380,000 to the jail project, which has already come in above the initial $6.85 million budget because of an unexpected increase in the cost of materials and construction.
“You can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” Brian Wade addressed the commissioners. “You’re burdening us to no end.”
Rhonda Dunn, now working part-time for the county treasurer’s office, said the funding for the pod would not come as a new tax. The 0.4 percent tax increase approved for the jail project, an increase that will sunset after 20 years or as soon as the project is paid off, is expected to bring in more than enough to cover the added cost.
“This is not costing the taxpayers more,” Dunn said, but added it would take funds away from other projects, such as improving the county courthouse and renovating the area where the jail is currently located.
Dunn said so far the tax revenue for the project is coming in above their projections, bringing in more than $761,000 in 2016 when they had estimated about $676,000 annually.
All three commissioners said they received calls from citizens in the past week, some expressing support for adding the pod now, when it could likely be done at a cheaper rate, while others said that is not what the county voted for when they approved the project, which has already exceeded the agreed upon cost.
Commissioner Jeff Fischer said he believes citizens are beginning to feel as if they are losing their say in the project, which was already approved by a narrow margin. Fischer said it may be best to delay adding the pod in order to draw in more revenue before deciding to spend more.
Commissioner Nick Ruhl said it makes sense to add the pod now, since the other pods are currently being installed and since the county is already paying for the utilities and staff needed. But Ruhl said he believes the county should wait to spend more money and instead give the sheriff’s department an opportunity to raise that money itself by housing inmates from other counties once the project is complete.
Martin said the jail could potentially raise between $100,000 and $200,000 annually by housing other inmates. Dunn said the county could create an account for that surplus money from the sheriff’s department for the law enforcement’s use.
The commissioners voted unanimously not to approve the change order for the project that would have included the extra pod.