ICE inmates, the county jail expansion and highways paving were major topics, when the Clay County Commission presented the State of the County, on Tuesday.

Each commissioner spoke individually, during the midday Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Each commissioner focused on a different topic: Paul Sinders spoke about a commissioner’s role and duties, and recent successful projects; Bryan Allender discussed Community Crossings Grants and successful highway paving projects; and Commission President Marty Heffner ended the discussion, with an explanation of the jail expansion and project benefits.

Brook Reinoehl, Chamber president, introduced speakers, after directing guests toward a table laden with Chick-Fil-A boxed lunches.

Jail Expansion

Heffner, speaking last, spoke about the jail and expansion in detail. He said final plans and scope aren’t complete for the jail expansion, so the county is waiting for a final decision from the Commission.

The estimated final cost is at $25.9 million.

He said false statements have been made around ICE detainees and the new jail, and its benefits for the county. ICE stands for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.

First, he laid out the taxes that directly feed money into local projects. For instance, a one-quarter cent local income tax helps in funding the justice center. That income tax spreads the burden around to every individual. This helps to keep property taxes low, he said, noting that Clay County is 86th of 92 Indiana counties in property tax, thanks to the local income tax’s power in funding needed projects.

Meanwhile, the new jail had 187 beds, before any expansion efforts. State regulations insist that a jail at 80 percent capacity is considered “full.”

When local inmates reached 80 percent in 2018, Heffner said, they were left with space for only about 40 ICE inmates.

The financial benefits of housing ICE inmates versus local inmates only is substantial, he said.

The government pays $37.50 a day to house inmates, a sum that is below the cost. For ICE inmates, that payment is $55 each day.

That added money has been used to fund extra projects in the county, he said.

The Clay County Jail is the only long-term housing facility in Indiana for ICE detainees, Heffner said, though inmates don’t wait here long until transportation to facilities in other states.

The thought now is that low interest and bond rates make jail expansion construction attractive, before rates increase. That, he said, will help the county avoid increased taxes.

The jail grossed $1.4 million last year, with a net profit of $783,000, which goes straight to payment of jail expenses and other projects. For instance, he said, a new $83,000 chiller in the courthouse was paid for thanks to jail profits.

Highway Paving

Before Heffner spoke, Allender provided an update on Community Crossings grants and success in paving.

In 2016, the county started receiving Community Crossings funding, up to $1 million each year, if the county matches 25 percent. In 2016, they paved 26 miles, after receiving $1 million.

In 2017, they paved six miles of road, thanks to about $314,450, but received no funding and paved no roadway in 2018.

In 2019 and 2020 the county again received $1 million, for each year. With 686 miles of roadway in Clay County, he said, this funding remains critical for keeping up with rural roadways.

Commission Duties

Sinders was the first commissioner to speak.

He said the county works closely with the Brazil mayor on city/county projects, to make each dollar spent more effective.

Additionally, he explained the basics of a commissioner’s duties. Each commissioner must live in their district, but is voted on by the entire county. This differs from Council members.

He also said there are 35 responsibilities for larger counties, some of which matter to smaller counties too.

He mentioned that budget hearings are held in September and the budget is adopted in October.

County buildings are also commissioners’ responsibility, including the courthouse and jail, for example. they hire custodians and highway department employees, but not sheriff’s department officers. He also said they have no control over other elected officials.

They also sign all county contracts and appoint individuals to commissions.

Last, he listed several county projects that the Commission has completed: a new building purchased for the health department, a new storage building for the sheriff’s department, a new community corrections building, black mold removed from the courthouse and also new sidewalks there. They hope, he said, to build a storage building for the highways department, on the east side of the parking lot, if costs are prohibitive.
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