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2/13/2018 11:32:00 AM
Tipton County officials talk timeline for new jail project

Cody Neuenschwaner, Kokomo Tribune

TIPTON – With a laundry list of preliminary tasks complete and the issuance of bonds slated for later this month, Tipton County officials hope the long-awaited ground breaking for the new jail will take place this summer.

“If everything aligns and works just as we laid it out – and we all know how that goes – we would actually expect to break ground sometime by middle or late June, and we would be expecting to occupy the building within 18 months after that,” said Tipton County Commissioner Jim Mullins.

The Tipton County Jail Committee met, possibly for the last time, last week, where a timeline for the projects financing and bonding process was unveiled.

Rick Hall, the county’s bonding attorney, of Hall, Barnes and Thornburg LLP, said the building will, effectively, be owned by a building corporation made up entirely of Tipton County residents appointed by the board of commissioners. The county will then submit lease payments to the corporation for use of the building. The payments will then go toward paying off issued bonds.

“This is a common form of financing used around the state of Indiana,” said Hall, who went on to say that at the Feb. 20 commissioners’ meeting the BOC is expected to approve the issuance of the bonds, to be purchased by interested bidders.

Other legal processes will include the county council’s pledge for special local income tax (LIT) dollars to go toward the lease payments.

Recently, county officials had to recommend some amendments to LIT legislation to be approved during the current legislative session. Mullins said the legislation, as it stands, is not worded to include jail operating expenses.

“We know that from talking to many other people who built jails and so forth, they say anyone can build a new jail; operating it is another story,” said Mullins. Additionally, another pending amendment to the tax legislation will make the slight bump permanent. However, Hall said, officials can later make the decision to repeal the tax.

The tax legislation was approved by the Tipton County Council in 2015, giving residents a bump of no more than .4 percent to fund the new jail.

The tax provides for 125 percent of expected lease payments, said Matt Eckerle of Umbaugh & Associates. Additionally, information provided by Umbaugh states total illustrative project costs as $16.55 million, with a noted disclaimer stating “All figures are preliminary and subject to change.”

When the jail is completed at the site located near where Jefferson Street meets Indiana 28, Bill Shepler, of the project consultation firm PMSI, said it will be the smallest jail in the state. At 70 beds, there will be space made available – about 10 to 15 beds – for the jail to house inmates from others counties that are more cramped for space.

Shepler also said the new jail can be staffed by the same number of officers it takes to staff the current jail. The caveat to that claim, said Shepler, is the current jail has long been known to be understaffed. He went on to recommend an added part-time maintenance position, bumping a part-time cook to full time and adding five new corrections officers.

“You’ve been very fortunate. You’ve been very, very fortunate,” he said referencing jail understaffing. “Most counties would have had numerous lawsuits filed against them.”

He went on to praise the work of the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department for making do with the current staff, and working hard to make sure the jail is run without incident.

Mullins said, however, the staffing issue has had some repercussions.

“On a more than frequent basis, we have been inspected, and the inability to cover all of the work that is required by the State Correctional Department, we have been cited on numerous occasions because we do not have the staffing to do everything that’s required," he said. "So even if we weren’t going to build a new jail, in order to get out from under that sort of regular criticism, we would have to add those people so we can start covering areas we’re short."

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