Voters may get say on county buildings

Authored by Bob Adams on Nov 11, 2011

The issue of what to do about the Superior Court Building and the jail may end up being decided by the voters.
With the Adams County Commissioners, State Representative Matt Lehman, and Decatur City Attorney Tim Baker present at the Adams County Council meeting on Tuesday morning, most of those present leaned pretty strongly about putting the issues on a referendum for a vote.
Decatur and county officials have held talks now for several months and seem to be in favor of building a joint city-county building in downtown Decatur near the Adams County Courthouse that would house both city offices and several county offices, including the Superior Court.
The two government agencies would share the costs of the building, based on how much space each entity would require.
The building that houses the Superior Court is the old Carnegie Library building, and it faces several structural issues, and, according to Superior Court Judge Pat Miller, several security issues. The building also houses the county's Probation Department.
The jail is also facing several structural issues, and has been operating at or near capacity for several years. There is also a strong chance that the county would soon be required to house C and D felony offenders, thus increasing overcrowding issues.
Council President Randy Colclasure opened the discussion by asking State Representative Matt Lehman about the status of the state pushing back the C and D felons to the counties for incarnation. Lehman stated the reality is there is a push coming as to how the legislature is to treat crimes. He added that, in regards to sentencing, when sentenced there are two types of people, ones we are mad at and ones we do not want loose on the streets. The legislature has created sentencing that puts away people we are mad at which is not in the best interest of the person or the citizenry. Lehman stated that the intent of the legislature is to have the money follow the inmate just as the money follows students in the school system.
Colclasure said if the state moves them down to the counties Adams County will have to pay someone else to house them as we do not have the space. Lehman said this is an issue that will need to be addressed.
Commissioner Ed Coil stated he had performed a study that illustrates 56.5 percent of the cost now to the county is due to the justice system.
Colclasure added that he believed the committee discounted the jail in the study and thinks the jail has to be back on the table because money can be generated from a jail.
While most council members, including Phil Wulliman, Kenyon Sprunger, Eric Orr, and Dennis Bluhm, and Commissioners Kim Fruechte and Doug Bauman felt the issue of a new city-county building needed to be done by referendum, the issue of what to do about the jail continued to be discussed with Adams County Attorney Mark Burry stating that the issue of the two buildings could not be combined on a referendum.
The council agreed they need to present a unified front on the city-county building, while Decatur Mayor John Schultz said the public really needs to be educated about the issue.
Judge Miller stated Schenkel Schultz has a marketing department that can be utilized. Miller expressed he would like to see the commissioners and council utilize them.
Council President Randy Colclasure stated a committee is needed that reports back to the council, city of Decatur and commissioners. It was expressed the committee needs to have representatives from Berne, Geneva, and Monroe.
It was decided to use the committee that was established for the Superior Court/Jail study to work on this with Judge Miller heading up the group.
Superior Court Office Administrator Carrie Freeman asked what happens with the Superior Court while the study and proposed referendum take place as there are many pressing needs at the Superior Court building. It was suggested to Building and Grounds Superintendant Steve Krull to get a list together of what needs done to the building along with costs.
The council approved additional appropriations of $5,000 for autopsy fees, $1,100 for food inspection, $2,350 for indigent expenses, $300 for a temporary assistant court reporter, $200 for witness fees, $1,560 for gas and oil for the sheriff, $2,000 for radios, $2,000 each for repairs and maintenance and meals, and $2,951 for supplies and training.
The council then approved Resolution 2011-15, which sets salaries and wages for county employees next year.
Colclasure stated he had spoken with the commissioners in regards to creating a committee to review fiscal concerns and speak with county employees about where they see savings possibilities and they had decided to discuss this at the department head meeting on November 17 at 9:00 a.m.
Colclasure said he would be willing to receive confidential emails with suggestions about cost savings. Auditor Bill Borne stated this could be set up by the IT department as an address that is forwarded to Colclasure and it would remain confidential. Council member Stan Stoppenhagen commented he would like to see a physical box placed in the Service Annex for confidential comments from employees. The council members agreed a physical box should be provided in addition to the confidential email.

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