Logan County Board to put jail and courthouse building costs to public by referendum

Send a link to a friend  Share

[November 28, 2017] 


On Tuesday, November 21, the Logan County Board voted to put a referendum on the March ballot for repairs to the courthouse.

Building and Grounds Chairman Kevin Bateman made a motion to go out for bids for repairs for the interior and exterior dome of the Courthouse, which passed unanimously.

Bateman has been researching contractors and said bids for the dome repair will be done by a reliable contractor.

Board member Gene Rohlfs asked if the contractor would write specifications.

Bateman said the contractor would design the Requests for Proposal to meet specifications. The contractor also plans to bid on the repairs.

Bateman said the dome is in dire need of repair and small pieces have already fallen off. It would cost $157,000 to take the oculus, the circular opening at the dome's center, out of the building. They would then store it for restoration and put up a Lexan (high strength plexiglass) dome to keep the heat and cold out. The Lexan dome would be resistant to the smaller pieces falling.

Bateman's motion to put a referendum on the ballot in March for building restoration purposes in the amount of $4 million, including a feasibility study on what it would take to build a new facility.

Bateman said he wanted to discuss bumping up the referendum amount to $15 M because the county also needs a new jail facility.

Board member Gene Rohlfs said if we are talking about a new facility to increase capacity in addition to repairs at courthouse, we are probably "conservative" with the $15 M figure.

State's Attorney Jonathan Wright said the public should be informed that in the executive session that evening, the board discussed security issues at the jail. That discussion turned into a motion for the possibility to expand the jail as part of this bond referendum. The jail expansion is based on numbers.

Wright said new prison reform coming will "put more pressure on local county jails as opposed to few Department of Correction sentences."

Bateman said the new laws going into effect January 1st mean the county will have to expand the jail to add jail cells.

Board Chairman Chuck Ruben asked Bateman about a $19 M, 188-bed jail up north.

Bateman said the one Ruben referred to was built brand new from the ground up for $19 M.

Bateman said in discussion with other board members and sheriff, if we can add on to the facility we have since we have the land to do so, the figure would be about $10 M.

The dome part of the roof and the oculus inside is 112 years old and repair would be about $3.5 million. The outside elevator is obsolete and if one part breaks, they are taking spare parts from the spare elevator, and Bateman got a rough estimate from an elevator firm for an outside elevator. Bateman said a couple other projects need to be addressed at the courthouse, which puts the amount just shy of $14 M, so he "rounded the amount to $15 M to cover it all."

Ruben said it would be an increase in property taxes. On a $4.4 M bond paid back in 20 years, it would mean a $14 increase in annual property taxes for someone who owns a $100,000 home.

Ruben said if you keep doubling that amount out, you get a higher increase, which becomes a substantial burden on taxpayers.

Rohlfs said he would like to eliminate that on the tax burden through a sunset clause.

Ruben said he did not think a sunset clause would be needed. Once the bond is paid off, the higher tax rate would go away.

[to top of second column]

Board member David Hepler asked if they could vote on the issue without having the language for the referendum.

Ruben said the board has until January 2 to put the issue on the March referendum, They can get the bond company to come in and write the resolutions in December.

Board member Scott Schaffenacker said the last building referendum was in 1972. He motioned to amend the referendum amount to $15 M.

Bateman has reached out to other counties as he researched the issue and said Livingston County just built a new facility with courtrooms for $13 M, which did not include a jail. Bateman said $15 M is "still extremely frugal with taxpayer dollars."

Wright asked the board if they could accomplish getting this issue on the referendum between now and March. When the Public Safety Tax was put on the ballot, Sheriff Nichols and EMA Director Dan Fulscher had 17 town hall meetings. One county had 47 town hall meetings about a jail expansion and the measure "barely passed."

Wright said there is only so much political capital to go to the public with a bond referendum and you cannot keep coming back to the public every couple years asking for more bond and more tax money. The voting public may ask why the amount is $15 M and not $12 M or some other figure.

Bateman said there is not enough time to sell the issue properly. The problem is the courthouse is in need of immediate repair because small pieces are already falling from the dome. They have not done a feasibility study on the jail yet either.

Bateman said he would look to remodel and expand on the jail we already have.

Bateman said he would tell citizens who ask, we are under a time crunch and we have come up with the best number we possibly can. He said they could easily stay under $15 M and come in under budget.

Schaffenacker asked about putting the issue on the November ballot and motioned they amend it to put it on the November ballot.

Bateman asked about putting it on the November ballot if it fails on the March ballot. That would give the board time to "sell" the issue.

Rohlfs said he has seen some referendums take three or four times to pass.

The motion to put the referendum for $4 M on the March ballot passed 7-5 with Kevin Bateman, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, David Hepler, Gloria Luster, Scott Schaffenacker and Annette Welch voting yes; and Dave Blankenship, Bob Farmer, Gene Rohlfs, Chuck Ruben, and Bob Sanders voting no.

The amended motion to put a $15 M referendum on the ballot in March passed 8-4 with Kevin Bateman, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, David Hepler, Gloria Luster, Chuck Ruben, Scott Schaffenacker and Annette Welch voting yes; and Dave Blankenship, Bob Farmer, Gene Rohlfs, and Bob Sanders voting no.

Ruben said it is a difficult decision, but putting it on the ballot will give people a chance to look on it and decide whether it is a worthwhile expense.

Board members present were Kevin Bateman, Dave Blankenship, Janet Dahmm, Emily Davenport, Bob Farmer, David Hepler, Gloria Luster, Gene Rohlfs, Bob Sanders, Scott Schaffenacker and Annette Welch, with Board Chairman Chuck Ruben presiding.

[Angela Reiners]

Back to top