Commissioners, Council approve new jail study

By Tyler Roebuck

troebuck@kpcmedia.com

COLUMBIA CITY — A new study will take place soon to look at the possibility of building a minimum-security facility for technical offenders in Whitley County after the Commissioners and Council approved $15,000 for the research.

Contracting firm Michael Kinder & Sons will conduct the study following a recommendation of the recently formed jail taskforce. The taskforce, composed of Commissioner George Schrumpf, Council President John Barrett, several of the county’s judges and prosecutors, was formed in response to overcrowding in the jail.

“The commissioners have had to deal with the jail overcrowding situation, so we formed a jail taskforce,” Schrumpf said. Most Indiana counties, he said, are currently dealing with overcrowding in jails and pressure from the state to address it.

Rather than reacting to mandates or ignoring the issue, the taskforce is looking forward and trying to plan ahead.

“We really needed someone to delve into a needs assessment for looking into the future for what we’re going to need rather than building a building and hoping that will fit what we need,” Schrumpf said.

The $15,000 study is the beginning of looking forward, with parts of the plan being a need assessment, site identification and evaluation and a building concept. The needs assessment, Schrumpf says, will be an important part as the county figures out the best way to address the overcrowding.

Right now, the solution seems to be a minimum-security facility for “technical violators.” According to Schrumpf, technical violators are people “who have done their time but had dirty tests from drug tests or alcohol tests, so they’re back in jail because they’re probation violators,” he said.

“They’ve already served their time. What we’re looking at is taking those people out and putting them in a low security facility and, at that point really, you’ve taken care of jail overcrowding,” he said. “Those people know that if they violate again they’re going into prison. It’s a rude awakening for them.”

With technical violators and those awaiting sentencing in mind, a new facility could potentially remove up to 70 people from the jail population, with currently 126 inmates, 50 of whom are technical violators and 20 awaiting sentencing.

To both Commissioners and Council members, it seems like a no-brainer to conduct the study. Cost savings alone from a technical violator facility could save the county, and therefore taxpayers, a lot of money.

“We’re looking at $40-million for a new jail, but with a technical violator facility we’re looking at maybe $5-milion,” Schrumpf said.

In other Whitley County Government news

• Judge Matthew Rentschler came before the Council asking for a transfer of funds to pay off leftover bills. The incoming money is from an assortment of other court funds.

“We received some funds in the summer, but knew it was not going to be enough,” Rentschler said.

Public defender costs over the last several years have led to a cycle of paying leftover bills out of the following year’s budget, and Rentschler says the court system is working on eliminating the reoccurring problem. The transfer was unanimously approved.

• In Sheriff Marcus Gatton’s absence, Deputy Jason Spencer came to the council to ask for a wage increase for Jodi Hollenbaugh equal to that which Janell Schmitt was rewarded last month.

Councilman Bill Overdeer made the motion to approve it, and Glen Larue seconded, but the vote failed 3-4, with Overdeer, Larue and Barrett in favor and Jim Bayman, Chad Banks, Kim Wheeler and Thor Hodges in opposition.

“I’d like to see you wait until the new year, since it’s so close,” Wheeler said.

• County Engineer Brandon Forrester asked Council members for the money for an additional truck driver, as the need for more able hands has increased at the department. With Indiana’s implementation of a higher gas tax over the summer, the department has seen an increase in funds, and thus is working more efficiently and effectively.

“The money is there to support it, the budget that was presented supports it and the workload supports it,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of good and moving forward.”

Earlier this year, Forrester came to council asking for two truck drivers, one to be hired in the summer to help with chip sealing, the other in the winter. The first driver was approved, but council did not approve the second driver.

He also came before the Commissioners to inform them of opening bids for fuel, asphalt, major supplies and heavy equipment rental. On the fuel, Forrester made it clear that the bids need to specify premium fuel.

“What we want is consistent hi-grade diesel,” he said. “We provide fuel for 20 departments, so for a few pennies it’s worth specifying premium.”

• The Commissioners addressed several right-of-way permits, some of which were discussed in detail. One was for an address near Tri-Lakes where the property owner paid a well-drilling company to drill a well on the other side of the road from their house.

While the well was drilled in the correct location for the health department, it would require drilling under the road, which Forrester strongly opposes.

“Private utilities do not belong in public right-of-ways,” he said.

The commissioners reluctantly granted the permit, but only after the property owner signed a hold-harmless agreement.

“Our right-of-ways are getting busy, that’s a fact,” Commissioner Don Amber said. “The only way I’ll be comfortable is if they sign a hold-harmless paper.”

Another was for the placement of a sign for an apartment complex. County zoning does not allow for signs in the right-of-way, so the permit was unanimously shot down.

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