County Council Passes Justice Center LIT—What Does It Mean For The Growing County?
During its meeting June 14 the Boone County Council approved LIT tax (Local Income Tax) funding for a near $60 million justice center expansion project. The vote [4-3] approved the expansion of administration offices and additional space at the existing Boone County Jail in Lebanon, Indiana.
The approved LIT increases the county’s local income tax by 0.2% to pay down debt service on the $59 million bond that will fund the Justice Center project. The bond placement is expected in October 2022.
The LIT and bonds for the justice center project will expire in 20 years if not paid off earlier by the county, with the .2% increase taking effect Jan. 1, 2023.
A Brief Overview of the Project
Approximately 18 months ago, the Boone County Commissioners (“Commissioners”), in partnership with Sheriff Mike Nielsen and the Boone County Sheriff’s Office (“Sheriff”), began the process of developing the expansion project for the Boone County Justice Center Project.
In a recent statement released by the Boone County Commissioners, it was stated that, “In discussions with former Sheriff Ken Campbell, he stated the jail facility would have to be expanded. That discussion took place 13 years ago. At that time, there was concern that the population of the jail would soon create issues of overcrowding. In 2014 the first jail feasibility study was completed. The data collected confirmed the Boone County Jail would not be sufficient for Boone County law enforcement in the next 20 to 30 years. Due to the recession and other financial constraints of the County, we determined that it was not the correct time to pursue the expansion of the jail.”
The commissioners’ statement went on to state, “As time passed and our criminal justice system expanded, it was decided in 2018 that it was time to revisit the subject and engage in another jail feasibility study. The second study was completed in March 2020 and confirmed that additional jail cells were needed to extend the life of the current facility and to prepare for future population growth. The jail feasibility study was emailed to the Boone County Council on April 16, 2020.
It is important to note that the current facility was built in 1992 when the population of Boone County was approximately 35,000 people. After the most recent census completed in 2020, Boone County’s population growth is just over 70,000 people.
Boone County has seen thousands of new homes built in recent years. There have also been great successes in economic development within our cities and towns. As we continue to strive to be the most efficient government that we can possibly be, it is inevitable that population growth will put continued pressure on Boone County Government and our facilities to grow as well in order to continue providing the services that are expected by the Boone County citizens.
The Commissioners and Sheriff’s Office, over the past several months, have provided extensive data and plans of the proposed project. The Commissioners developed a public website [livinginboonecounty.com] to share information about a myriad topics that were important to the Commissioners and the public. Information regarding the proposed project is shared on this website. An opportunity for other elected officials, Justice Commission members, and the public to submit questions and request information regarding the proposed project is also available on the website.”
The commissioners have opted for a build-operate-transfer contract (BOT) which is a procurement method different from a design-bid-build contract where costs may increase throughout the life of the construction project. Boone County President of Commissioners Jeff Wolfe stated—on record—that the contractor’s bidding on this project will not exceed the $59.1 million price tag but that some of the costs could come in lower than the original bid over the course of the project.
Wolfe expressed, “We are thankful to the four members of the Boone County Council for putting our citizens’ best interests first by voting to push this project across the finish line. Our county’s taxpayers will ultimately save more money in the long run because we can complete the project sooner rather than later while interest rates remain relatively low.”
Wolfe continued, “The Commissioners have been working diligently throughout the past year to move forward with the justice center expansion project because we understand the needs our growing county faces – like expanded mental health services and an upgraded consolidation of the coroner’s office and responsibilities, among others. Despite these obstacles, we are thankful for the Council members who voted to ultimately make the justice center expansion a reality. Your decision will have long-term positive implications for Boone County.”
Where Does the Project Go From Here?
Boone County can now move forward with financing for the project because the council has adopted the tax. Planning, design, facilities and maintenance of the justice center are exclusively the responsibilities of the Commissioners. A design is expected to be formally completed by the end of the summer, and the entire project is expected to to be completed in 20-24 months.
The commissioners will begin the bond process now that they have officially adopted the BOT agreement.
Commissioner Tom Santelli spoke on some of the project’s main talking points, “We’re constantly working to improve the criminal justice and public safety systems, so they operate fairly and equitably; to ensure the dignity and humanity of those interacting with these systems; and to reduce the population of jailed, detained, and incarcerated juveniles and adults. We want to insure we are incarcerating the individuals who are a threat to society while improving the lives of those who have simply made bad choices.”
Santelli went on to say, “The new justice center achieves several goals and improves the quality of life for staff and inmates. Workloads at all levels from the Coroner’s office, forensics, CSI, community corrections and probation, our 911 call center, mental health, work release, and juvenile detention will be more efficient, reduce stress and workloads, reducing staff turnover. Medical and mental health services will be expanded and enhanced. The new justice center will improve communications with attorneys and families and insures we meet current ADA compliance requirements. The jails new infirmary will reduce the need and costs associated with transporting inmates to Witham. This holistic approach will greatly improve our public safety services to our communities.”
Commissioner Donnie Lawson added, “Now that it’s passed, it’s time to move forward and do what we absolutely need to do at the Sheriff’s Department. Yes—the LIT is going to cost taxpayers an amount of money but what we did do is lock in the maximum that can be spent on this whole process. If it goes over that amount, the contractor pays for it. If it stays under that amount, then it’s less money spent, and we pay off the bond quicker. I want the taxpayers to understand that we’re trying to do this as quickly and as economically as possible. But for the safety and well-being of everyone in Boone County, this project is essential.”
The commissioners and Sheriff Nielsen have released statements explaining that if the Boone County jail overloads its capacity with inmates, there would be consequences rendered from both the state and federal agencies. One of their arguments for the project, aside from continuity of services and an expansion of services provided is the need to remain in compliance with state and federal regulations.
In addition to moving the Coroner’s office and other related departments so that they are all centrally located on one campus, Lawson expressed the commissioners’ perspective on the importance of rehabilitation versus warehousing inmates and why the need to expand mental health services, community corrections and probation, substance disorder and other related programs, is vital to the overall health of Boone County.
“I have learned so much about what rehabilitation does for people that have been incarcerated,” Lawson said, “I’ve learned from three prior inmates that went through the jail programs how these programs completely changed and improved their lives. When we go above and beyond to help them and they—in turn—are willing to do the work to become better citizens, we break the cycle and they [the former inmates] don’t come back into the criminal justice system.”