The Boone County Council gave more details about the Boone County Justice Commission, which will determine the need and scope of the proposed jail expansion project.
“Public safety is of the utmost importance,” council president Elise Nieshalla read in this week’s council meeting’s opening remarks. The council establishment the commission in a special meeting on Sept. 8. She went on to reiterate the council’s need to investigate the need of the expansion as part of the fiduciary role of the fiscal body of the county. “Like any decision involving the hard-earned money of our taxpayers, we are obligated to do our due diligence prior to funding a project,” she said.
Nieshalla said the commission would hold a number of meetings at least a month apart and that the commission would issue its final recommendations to the council in a report due no later than the second quarter of 2022. She announced the first meeting will be 6 p.m. Oct. 5, but said the location was yet to be determined.
Few dispute the need for more beds in the jail, but several members of the council kept saying that taxpayers want to know “what are we getting for our money.” They also pointed out the need to know the operational costs and a better cost estimate for the entire project. Nieshalla said additional matters to be investigated include the community corrections and probation, the prosecutor’s office, the morgue and juvenile facilities being moved to the jail site. Many of these items have been included in the overall jail expansion which is being called the Boone County Justice Center because it is more than just adding beds.
Boone County Commissioners Tom Santelli and Jeff Wolfe pushed for the council to move forward on a resolution or commitment to fund the proposed $45 million to $50 million project. Most likely that would involve instituting a 0.02% local income tax for a jail available in state law. The tax collection would pay the bond that would be issued for the expansion, they said.
The commissioners said they have been working on the expansion for six years and landed on a new method for funding big capital projects called Build-Operate-Transfer, or BOT. This method allows a public-private partnership that allows the public entity, i.e. the county, to choose the architect and owner’s rep and work on the scoping process as part of the project. In the more traditional Design-Bid-Build method, the design must be completed and then the project goes out for bid. In BOT, the risk is primarily on the project consultants. Wolfe keeps assuring the council that the project will include a price not to exceed the county’s set amount.
The commissioners have hired several consultants including K2M Design as the architect, Veridus Group as the owner’s representative and GM Development. They appeared before the council Tuesday morning to give some details for the project. Initial project parameters include building a sheriff’s office, new office space for the Boone County Coroner and the Boone County Community Corrections on the jail site, and a warehouse-like structure that can hold new inmate pods if and when more beds are needed in the future.
The sticking point for the commission is the delay in implementing the local income tax. If the jail LIT can be established by council vote by Oct. 31, then taxes can start being collected as of January 2022. If it is not, then the tax cannot be collected until October of 2022. This delay could see project costs increase, they argue.
Santelli predicted an increase in interest rates which he claimed would add $24 million over the 20-year bond needed for the project because interest rates will rise due to inflation pressures on the economy. Neishalla said her research showed that rates might only go up a half of a percentage point, which would only add about $1.5 million to the entire 20-year bond in interest costs.
The first year of tax revenue was earmarked to buy furniture and computers for the facility. These soft costs would have been kept out of the bond, making the project allegedly cheaper, according to the commissioners and Sheriff Mike Nielsen.
Ironically, it is the method of Build-Operate-Transfer which even allows the council to create the investigation into the need. Since the BOT requires the county to enter into a lease with the builder, the council has the right to investigate the need for the lease and the cost associated with it.
Council member Jennifer Hostetter pushed the council to get the commission to complete its investigation before Halloween so a tax could be voted upon. A majority of the council commented that would be too aggressive and not likely to happen.