Sunday, September 19, 1999

New jail site chosen; now funds needed

Kenton Co. may gather input with commission

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ELSMERE — After months of wrangling, Kenton County officials have chosen a site for a new jail. Now they just have to find the money to build it.

        “The funding of this project is critical,” said Kenton County Commissioner Dan Humpert. “I'm very much a believer that it's the public's money, and the public has a right to decide how to spend it.”

        Last week, Kenton Fiscal Court agreed to acquire a 55-acre site within the Northern Kentucky Industrial Park in Elsmere. The new jail, which would replace the crowded, inefficient deten tion center in downtown Covington, would be built west of Foundation Road, east of the railroad and south of New Buffington Road.

        While choosing a site was one of the tougher decisions that Kenton County government will face, the hardest part lies ahead, Kenton Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd said.

        “Indeed, the toughest part of the package will come in determining how we will pay to remedy the cor

        rections crisis facing Kenton County,” Mr. Murgatroyd said.

        Kenton County's judge-executive estimated the total project cost will be “in the low to mid-20s,” with the jail itself costing $17 million to $18 million.

        Mr. Humpert said he hopes to get public input on how to fund the jail through the Kenton County Jail Commission.

Proposed commission
        As proposed by Mr. Murgatroyd, the commission would have seven to 10 representatives, including the jailer, police, corrections officials, judges and business people. Besides examining funding possibilities for a new jail, the commission members also would study how large the jail should be, what kind of design would work best and whether privatization would be the best option for construction and/or management of the jail.

        “That group would have more time to go into the various details,” Mr. Humpert said. “I'd like to see the current operational costs of the jail studied. I think there are some tremendous savings there. I would hope that we would be able to achieve some efficiencies in the new jail, compared to the old.”

        County officials have said it could be two to four years before the new jail opens.

        To temporarily relieve crowding at the current jail, Mr. Murgatroyd said the county will convert the vacant fifth floor of the Kenton County Administration building to a restricted custody facility.

        The additional space would house about 100 prisoners, providing a temporary remedy for the packed multi-story jail that often has to release prisoners before they serve their full sentence because of crowding.

        As a more permanent measure, Mr. Humpert would like the county to consider keeping a booking/arraignment/holding center in downtown Covington to reduce travel time and costs for Covington police, and free up more prisoner space at the new jail.

        While county officials say they will consider a tax increase only as a last resort, Mr. Humpert said he thinks some type of tax hike will be necessary to pay for the new jail.

        “Conceivably, if we do the analysis and planning, we can get by with very little tax increase,” he said.

        Commissioner Barb Black would like the county to first look at a management audit to see if there's any place it can scale back.

        “It's like a home owner trying to add an additional car payment,” Mrs. Black said. “First, you look and see if there's anything you can cut back on, so that you can afford it.”

        “That's certainly an option, to have somebody with no ties to the county come in and do a management audit,” said Commissioner Adam Koenig.

Searching for savings
        Mr. Humpert said he also expects to find some savings, after examining individual departments' costs.

        Yet another possibility, commissioners say, is to look into refinancing existing bonds to borrow money at lower interest rates.

        “As a very last resort, I would look into actually cutting county services or looking for additional revenues (through a tax increase),” Mrs. Black said.

        Should the county choose that option, Mr. Humpert said, he would like to put any proposed tax increase to a public vote.


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