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Local

County leaders point to need for new Bureau County jail

They say sales tax would be best way to pay for it

PRINCETON – They’ve held community forums across Bureau County.

They’ve organized tours of the aging 1973 county jail in Princeton, and the building they want to transform into a new law enforcement center, now occupied by the Bureau County Republican.

They’ve handed out informational brochures and “frequently asked questions” sheets.

They’ve fielded questions from county residents.

All were in an effort to educate the public about the upcoming half-percent sales tax referendum on the March 20 ballot that would provide the revenue stream to finance a new law enforcement center.

On Monday afternoon, four county leaders – County Board Chairman Dale Anderson, Sheriff Jim Reed, and county board members Keith Cain and Kristi Warren – had a sit-down with the Bureau County Republican to summarize the need for a new county jail and law enforcement center, and why they believe a sales tax, that would expire in 20 years or less, is the best way to pay for it.

“The property tax is a very unfair tax,” Cain said. “It only limits you to the people that own property.

“This way, we can collect from everyone that shops or spends money in Bureau County, and the big items are exempt: your medical’s exempt, your vehicles are exempt, your groceries are exempt,” Cain said.

“It’s a fair tax, is the way I look at this,” he said. “If we didn’t have to do this, we wouldn’t do it.”

Anderson said the county has money in reserve, but much of it is in restricted funds that can’t be spent for projects such as this.

“And we really only have two options to fund a renovation or building of a jail; increase property taxes, or ask for the half-cent sales tax, and both of them have to be approved by the voters of the county,” he said.

“The bonding company wants a stable revenue source, and that’s either property taxes or this sales tax, And this half-cent will take us up to the limit of where we can go for sales taxes by the county,” he said.

Reed said the jail is in violation of several state codes. It is also not handicap accessible, and repairing obsolete facilities is a problem. For example, it recently cost more than $12,000 just to replace one institutional shower.

“The biggest problem is our classification. We don’t have room to classify the inmates,” Reed said.

That means inmates charged with misdemeanors are mixed with inmates charged with felonies, inmates who’ve been sentenced are in with those who haven’t been, there’s no segregation of the mentally ill and drug addicts, and the jail does not allow 50 square feet per inmate, which is a state law.

Reed pointed out that the county’s plan for a new law enforcement center was approved by the board unanimously.

“Everyone is in agreement with this because we feel it’s our duty to the taxpayers to move forward with this because it’s the best feasible study that we’ve had,” he said.

Warren commented that some people don’t understand the need for an 80-bed jail.

“But when you have 13 categories [for inmates], you potentially will be using a lot of those beds. Plus, we want to plan for the future,” Warren said.

“We have gone above and beyond trying to fix as much of the jail as we can, but it gets to the point where, how much more money can you put in it and still have it not be worth anything?” she said.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

County Board Chairman Dale Anderson – “There is a definite need for a jail because it’s unsafe for both inmates and the correctional officers. This will be able to utilize and have more visiting area for lawyers when they visit, for families to visit, and pastors’ programs. It’s needed, and it’s the best thing that I think we can do for Bureau County at this time. They (county jails) age much quicker than any other building because they’re 24-hour buildings, 24/7/365. These things are running all the time … so they don’t age well, and when they’re not built right to begin with, this one didn’t age well at all. We won’t make the same mistake that happened before.”

Sheriff Jim Reed – “This is getting the jail out of a residential area, also. How many times have we let people out of that jail, and they’ve committed crimes while they’re walking to the truck stop or to McDonald’s or to meet their family?”

County board members Keith Cain – “I think the general public and most people realize that we need a new jail and this is the time to do it. For every year you put it off, it goes up a half a million dollars in construction cost. We need to move forward on this. This isn’t just to make the jail a better facility for the inmates. This is to protect our staffing, the sheriff’s staffing, and protect the public so we have the facility to hold these people when they commit a crime in our area.”

County board members Kristi Warren –  “People are accusing us of not doing anything at that jail. We’ve put in new HVAC, we’ve done electrical, we’ve done the roofs, the jail locks, just to mention a few of the high-dollar items that we have done for that jail. We had to redo the whole tower ‘cause we got struck by lightning, what, three times, and it wasn’t surge protected. That cost a lot of money to have that tower done that’s right there by the jail.”

ONLINE

Go to bureaucounty-il.gov to learn more about the proposed jail project; click on the “Learn more about the 2018 law enforcement referendum” link.

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