Boone County Commission president Tom Santelli said delaying the jail expansion project could cost taxpayers the equivalent of a spaghetti dinner every day in interest costs, should rates rise. He brought a jar of pasta sauce to the meeting to drive home his point. Staff photo by Gus Pearcy
Boone County Commission president Tom Santelli said delaying the jail expansion project could cost taxpayers the equivalent of a spaghetti dinner every day in interest costs, should rates rise. He brought a jar of pasta sauce to the meeting to drive home his point. Staff photo by Gus Pearcy
There’s no time like the present and the Boone County Commissioners are urging members of the county council to pass the necessary resolutions to secure funding for an expansion of the county jail. Commission president Tom Santelli said a delay will cost taxpayers the equivalent of a spaghetti dinner every day.

Monday, the commissioners passed a resolution acknowledging the need for an expansion of the jail to not only add more inmate capacity by about 125 but also increase the size of the infirmary and work release area, add office space for community corrections and the coroner, and build another administrative area and programming space designed to reduce repeat offenders.

Many officials are calling the project a new justice center instead of a jail expansion.

The commissioners included specific language aimed at the council.

“Funds needed, therefore exceed funds available to the county,” the resolution reads. “The commissioners urge the county council to expeditiously proceed to take such steps as may be necessary to secure the acquisition, renovation and expansion and lease of the project.”

In 2018, the state legislature passed a funding mechanism in the form of a local income tax to be used exclusively to fund or maintain a county jail. The commissioners are asking for a tax to be implemented at .02%, or $5 to $8 a month for the average wage earner.

Santelli told the audience after the resolution was passed that there is no doubt that the project is needed and that the tax is not a property tax.

“If we delay the project then it will be the equivalent of a spaghetti dinner for every member of our community every day,” Santelli said specifically about an increase in interest rates that would add $5.8 million to the cost of the expansion. “It does increase the cost fairly dramatically.”

Increased costs to expand the existing jail would also reduce other services, he said. He specifically brought up the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative which has reduced recidivism of juveniles to only 25%. He also mentioned the many jail programs that are geared to reducing recidivism. He also mentioned the recovery court which is in its first year and the plans to start a specific special court for drugs.

“We’d like to see Boone County be a leader in these areas,” he said, adding that public safety is the No. 1 contributor to quality of life in Boone County. “(The expansion) is really important for our community.

“If we don’t move forward, we’re going to miss out on a lot of spaghetti dinners,” he added as he plopped down a jar of spaghetti sauce in front of him.

Last month, the council would not act on a jail local income tax because a majority wanted to see the scope and cost of the project. However, the commissioners are looking to use a new form of government capital projects called Build-Operate-Transfer which hires an engineering and construction firm that will sell the lease to the county after the project is complete.

“I think it’s just a matter of where that (jail) tax comes into play,” Council vice president Don Lamb said after the July meeting. “It’s hard, from the council perspective, to do something toward passing a tax increase when you don’t understand the full scope of the project.”

The council did not take action at its August meeting either. During comments at a recent town hall meeting, some residents have suggested using federal funds in the American Rescue Plan. However, the commissioners have said the $13.1 million share of ARP money cannot be used for the project.
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