Council won’t decide justice center until May or after | News

Boone County commissioners want Boone County Council to approve or reject a proposed $58 million justice center project at next Tuesday’s council meeting, but that won’t happen.

Council chairwoman Elise Nieshalla said the council would not announce a decision this month, and possibly not next month either.

“Boone County residents are paying more at the pumps to fill up their cars and more at the stores to put food on the table,” Nieshalla said in an email to The journalist from Lebanon. “As county commissioners began pushing last July to increase the burden on our residents by adding a new income tax (without even a plan initially for a jail expansion and a new justice center) , the board established the Boone County Justice Commission to assist in our legal duty to investigate the need for the proposed structure and make recommendations.

The BCJC will not complete its investigation into the county’s needs and report on its findings until after the May 10 council meeting, she said.

The commissioners presented the justice center project to council in October, but without details of the building or architectural renderings. The council then formed the BCJC and only recently received architectural drawings and specific answers they were looking for about square footage and other issues.

The new justice center would be built on Boone County Jail on Indianapolis Avenue in Lebanon. It would expand prison administration and inmate accommodation and provide significant space for inmate mental health and education services.

The building, as proposed, would also house other county offices related to the justice system, such as the coroner’s office and a morgue, probation services and the district attorney’s office.

These offices are growing rapidly and operating in crowded neighborhoods around the Boone County Courthouse Square. The coroner’s office is in a building in the square, while the morgue is in a small space inside the Witham Hospital morgue. The county coroner’s need for morgue space has unfortunately exceeded the capacity of the hospital’s morgue, Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks said.

The BCJC holds monthly public meetings and prepares a report on its findings which is expected to be complete after its meeting at 6 p.m. on April 12 at the Witham Pavilion at the 4-H Fairgrounds in Boone County in Lebanon.

Councilor Don Lamb said at the BCJC’s March meeting that the report is nearly complete and council should get the remaining answers it needs, complete the report and approve or reject the project quickly so commissioners know how. proceed.

Jeff Wolfe, chairman of the commissioners, requested that the board hold a public hearing and make a decision at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting at 8:30 a.m. on April 12 at the Boone County Annex, 116 W. Washington St., Lebanon. But that’s before the BCJC report is complete.

Wolfe emailed Nieshalla and the rest of the board last week, saying in part:

“At the last Justice Center commission, Councilman Lamb suggested to the entire crowd that the commission ask the questions necessary to reach a conclusion,” Wolfe wrote. “I, at the end of the meeting, asked the council to put the public hearing for the LIT prison (local income tax) on the April agenda to move this project forward. time, I have not heard any member of the board suggest that the project be modified.

“Due to this lack of communication on the subject, we assume that the project should proceed as planned,” said Wolfe, continuing, “Once again, I request that the public hearing be held on the date of the April meeting. This would allow the commissioners to proceed with the BOT (build, operate, transfer) process and proceed with financing the project.

Nieshalla does not want to rush.

“What should guide the project is due diligence and ensuring that a capital outlay of $58 million, plus additional costs of $5-6 million for furniture, fixtures and fittings equipment, and up to $3 million/year – possibly more – in increased operating costs, are necessary and justified,” Nieshalla said. “Before a new tax is imposed on our residents, we want to make sure there is no other way.”

Delaying the project increases the end costs in terms of higher interest rates and construction costs, the commissioners say.

“…this will only cost the citizens of Boone County more money with every day we continue to kick the streets,” City Councilman Kevin Van Horn wrote in response to Wolfe’s email. , obtained by The journalist from Lebanon through the Indiana Public Access Law.

“It’s time to put this on our agenda and move forward,” councilor Jennifer Hostetter wrote in response to Wolfe’s email, concluding, “…I think we’re all in able to vote on this, because we’ve all had ample time to research and investigate this issue.

Nieshalla said the BCJC is expected to report to council at 8:30 a.m. on May 10 and decisions will come after that.

See a guest column Nieshalla wrote on the subject on page 4 of The Lebanon Reporter opinion.

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