TOP STORY OF THE DAY, brought to you free by WICU: Commissioners refute public claims, misleading use of facts on jail expansion

Friday, December 17, 2021
Clay County Commissioners (from left) Paul Sinders, Bryan Allender and Marty Heffner are still considering a big expansion to the Clay County Justice Center.
Ivy Jacobs photo

With the jail population increasing 95% in 13 years, Clay County Commissioners are looking into a potential expansion project at the Clay County Justice Center.

The commissioners feel the information about the proposed expansion project for the Clay County Jail is fueled by false rumors, gossip, and misleading use of facts.

Commissioners Bryan Allender, Marty Heffner and Paul Sinders want to clarify a few things.

The first issue is the misuse of facts

“Presently, we have a .25% tax on local income to pay for the present jail,” said Sinders. “That tax will continue to pay for the possible jail expansion without raising taxes any more.”

The commissioners pointed out the County is using its budget like how the Clay Community School Corporation used its funding for the recent renovation projects.

“The possible jail expansion will cost approximately $26 million,” said Heffner. “But there will be no increase in taxes, but there will be no decrease either. We live here, and we pay taxes too. So we are very frugal with taxpayers’ money.”

The Clay County Justice Center was completed and moved into by the sheriff’s department in early February 2006. At the end of the month, the inmates housed at the old Clay County Jail were transferred to the new accommodations for 150-170 prisoners.

The Schenkel-Shultz Architects design team created the plans utilizing the newest designs available.

The inside of the Clay County Justice Center
Ivy Jacobs photo

That brings up the second issue, maintenance and renovations

After 15 years of constant use, the Justice Center needs a few things.

• The flat roof needs replaced,

• A new water management system to detour wastefulness, and

• Install a secure entrance/overhead door to permit repairs and future maintenance access.

The cost of these projects is factored into the expansion project.

“If we don’t include these projects in the possible jail expansion, County Council will have to come up with a way to pay for them,” said Allender. “We are looking at this as a way to save the citizens additional county costs in the future and from new taxes or increases.”

The third issue is housing state inmates

The State Of Indiana Department of Corrections determines local inmates will not serve sentences for lower-level crimes at the IDOC but be returned to jail facilities near their homes. The state provides $37 per day to house these inmates.

A study performed by RQAW Corporation provided data and projections about housing inmates at CCJC.

With a rated daily capacity of 176 inmates, CCJC began steadily surpassing that in 2016 (at a rate of 188) to reach 209 in 2019.

“The study indicated by the year 2024, our jail would be full with local inmates,” said Heffner, who is on the jail committee. “So, in only a few years, we would be required to add additional units to the jail. The longer we wait, the greater the cost will be.”

That is why the commissioners are considering an expansion; to take advantage of the low-interest rates.

“Unfortunately, there have been wrongdoings since the beginning of time. Nothing has changed,” said Sinders. “We realize that no one really wants to spend money on a jail to house criminals, whether they are local inmates or ICE.”

The fourth issue is ICE

And the commissioners agree it should not be an issue at all.

“We have been receiving ICE inmates since 2013, and there have been no problems,” said Heffner. “Many people, until now, did not know we were housing ICE inmates in our facility.”

The commissioners say many of their constituents do not have a problem with the jail or the ICE program.

“It has been stated the county is losing money on ICE inmates. That is totally untrue,” said Sinders. “Why would we want the ICE inmate program if we are losing money?”

In 2020, the county received approximately $1.4 million, with a net of $783,000. The funding was used to cover the cost of salaries for jail staff and other costs associated with the jail.

The ICE program pays $55 to house inmates, and those funds offset the local budget to help pay for operational expenses throughout the county.

“The County Council was able to give county employees a 3% raise next year, plus a bonus of 2%,” said Allender. “This would not be possible without the ICE money paying for the costs of the jail, which freed up other money to use.”

Because of the ICE money generated in recent years, the county has been able to use it along with county funds to purchase new facilities like:

• Clay County Health Department,

• Clay Community Corrections, and

• the Clay County Sheriff’s Department storage building.

“Without the ICE program funds offsetting the county budget, these projects would not have been possible without an additional tax being imposed by the County Council,” said Heffner.

Using ICE funding is a win-win for the county, but the commissioners believe the recent controversy surrounding the county’s use of the program is unnecessary mud in the water.

“This is not and never should have been about ICE,” Sinders said. “We are not paying anything on the ICE inmates. Do we have a contract with ICE? No, we do not.”

There is a contract with the U.S Marshal’s Service because they make arrangements for ICE detainees and other federal inmates potentially housed at the local facility when beds are available.

The Big Picture

Other counties throughout Indiana and nearby state jail facilities and jail transport services use CCJC to house inmates when beds are available.

The new 38,000 square foot jail expansion plans include room for 296 inmates attached to the south side of the current facility. It will meet new standards issued by the state and the federal government, which include:

• More housing for female inmates,

• Expanded medical, dental, and mental health services for inmates,

• Larger area for video conferencing to the courts,

• ADA compliant cells, and

• dedicated classrooms, access to clergy, attorneys and law library materials.

It could also create 33 new jobs in the community.

The jail changes will also allow the county to request a rate increase for housing ICE inmates.

“We didn’t want to put in for a rate increase right now or during the past two years because of the possible expansion. We could have. But we didn’t want to ask for it until we found out what we were going to do,” said Heffner. “Let’s be clear, IF we break ground on a new facility, at that point, we can ask for that raise. We can then go ahead and get that money started coming in while we’re going ahead on the construction of a facility. That will significantly increase the amount of money we have coming in at that point.”

The commissioners believe this is a reasonable and right financial decision to make at this time.

Often government agencies mandate things that have to be done and push the cost of these items back on local county governments.

“It’s hard to provide all these services that are mandated at the state and federal level. Counties often don’t have the funding to do them, and yet they have to absorb the costs,” said Allender. “By using and taking advantage of the ICE program to help to pay for a jail that the county is going to need for the next generation and the citizens will have to pay for it is an opportunity not to pass up right now.”

Attempting to be frugal and transparent, the commissioners say they are sticking to the facts.

“Our decisions will be based on the facts. Not on the fear and false information being generated by some people both inside and outside our county,” said Sinders. “Much thought has gone into the discussion and planning over the past two years about the possibility of expanding the jail. Many counties have had to raise taxes to operate their facilities and programs. The big question is — do you want the County Council to raise our taxes? Or do you want to generate ICE funds to help subsidize the county budget? Without the opportunity ICE provides, we will have to raise taxes. We are looking at what is best for everyone in Clay County, not just the small picture of today, but the big picture of our future generation.”

View 1 comment
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • Here,here

    -- Posted by Otiscampbell on Mon, Dec 20, 2021, at 1:55 AM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: