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05-26-06 Sooner rather than later?

By Tim Cox

  Mercer County voters could face a sales tax issue to pay for a new $12 million jail this November, based on a timeline laid out by the architectural firm the county has hired for the project.

  Commissioners agreed Thursday to spend $163,000 to hire Dublin-based Shremshock Architects Inc. to do the preliminary design of the proposed 96- to 100-bed facility. The firm's contract calls for much of the work to be completed by mid-September. Commissioners would have to file paperwork with county elections board by late August to place a tax issue on the ballot.

  Commissioners are expected to seek a countywide sales tax to pay for the new jail.

  Commissioners previously had said a jail-related ballot issue this year is unlikely. The speed of the preliminary design phase and community support for the project likely will dictate a decision, commissioners said Thursday.

  "It will depend on whether we can do a good job of putting everything together to talk about it to the public," Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.  Commissioners must decide in the near future where they want a new jail to be built.

  An initial study of six locations showed county-owned land along Fleetfoot Road between state Route 29 and Mud Pike as the best place to build. An additional study showed some farmland just west of Celina also is ideal and rates just behind the county land because of acquisition costs.

  The local jail, built in 1939, is approved to hold 15 inmates based on modern jail standards but has at times housed nearly twice that many. To deal with the overcrowding, inmates often are transported to regional jails at a cost of $45 per day, plus travel expenses. Transporting inmates also takes a deputy off regular road duty, Sheriff Jeff Grey has said.

  Commissioners also point to more than 1,000 unserved bench warrants held by local courts as another reason the county needs a new lockup.

  Full design, which will include producing construction documents and managing the building process, will cost at least $960,000.


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