Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
By Shelley Grieshop
Stimulus money for new jail officers sought
  The Mercer County Sheriff's Office has gotten the green light from commissioners to apply for nearly $500,000 in stimulus money to pay for five new corrections officers.
If the money is obtained, it would be the largest grant ever received by the agency.
The federal dollars, which are being made available through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, are targeted for "enhancing rural corrections, detentions and jail operations." They require no matching funds and there is no limit to the amount of money agencies can request, said Chief Deputy Gery Thobe, who is currently working on the detailed grant application.
Deadline to submit the application is April 22, Thobe added.
President Barack Obama's $780 million Recovery Act includes more than $4 billion for state and local law enforcement and other criminal and juvenile justice activities.
The sheriff's office is requesting $468,132 to fund the salaries and benefits of five new officers, who will come on board for the new jail being built west of Celina. Operations should begin there later this year.
The grant would help ease expenses at the jail for at least two years - the term of the grant, commissioners said on Tuesday.
Currently, there are nine corrections officers on staff excluding Captain Jody Lange. The five proposed new employees would replace one officer who is leaving for the military, one who quit after only a few months and one who is on a medical disability. The remaining two would increase the jail staff to three per shift, which will be needed when the 50,000-square-foot jail opens, Thobe said.
The estimated $11.9 million jail will house up to 100 inmates. The current jail next to the courthouse has a maximum capacity of 15 inmates.
Mercer County voters in November 2007 narrowly approved a 0.5 percent sales tax levy to fund the construction of the new facility. It is expected to be completed by Oct. 28, although inmates will be transported later after staff members have completed training.
Commissioners on Tuesday morning toured the ongoing construction site and were impressed with the progress. Workers are busy with inside work such as applying dry wall to the various offices in the administration area, Commissioner Jerry Laffin noted.
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