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Supervisors debate plans for revamping Justice Center

BY GRETA MEYLE | NOVEMBER 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday evening tried hard to find a compromise proposal to fix the jail and courthouse problems.

After supervisors weighed the ideas for two hours, they resolved to study two proposals regarding attempts to revamp the courthouse and jail.

The first proposal calls for the construction of a four-story building with a significant reduction in the number of jail beds and courtrooms from the previous proposals, which failed to garner enough votes. The second proposal would include a two- to three-story annex addition to the courthouse, while remodeling the jail. The supervisors have not set a date to put a proposal before the public.

Previous concerns including voter appeasement, financial limitations, and purchase agreements with the General Services Administration previously kept the supervisors from reaching an agreement. They have also discussed whether the courthouse and the jail should be put to vote at the same time — an issue that separated Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek from the supervisors.

The Justice Center proposal in November 2012 failed to reach the necessary 60 percent of voters amid numerous concerns with the proposal.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan was unsure the proposals have enough change to persuade voters.

“I think there’s a certain number of people who are going to find really lousy reasons to oppose things no matter what,” he said during the meeting. “I just don’t think you’ve changed things enough to persuade more people to vote for it.”

Despite the financial confines, four supervisors agreed to begin on the courthouse construction, which Sullivan felt would be the safest way to gain voters.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said she believes the board has a crisis to address with the courthouse, because its functions, unlike an excess of inmates, can’t be moved to an alternative location. When the jail reaches capacity, the excess inmates are shipped to another county’s jail.
Therefore, the courthouse should be the first priority, Rettig believes.

“I think that’s the part that’s nonnegotiable here. You can’t ship out your court meetings,” she said. “You [could] ship out every single inmate, and it would be cheaper for the taxpayers of Johnson County if we did that, as opposed to ever build a building. We’d be better off to hold the people who are serving their 48 hours and ship everybody out financially. It’s stupid — don’t get me wrong, but it is financially more affordable to do that.”

The supervisors remained divided on the issue, and amid the heated opinion, they argued over the best way to benefit the Johnson County justice system for under $39 million. Rettig recommended reducing the size of the original proposal.

Though Sullivan, Supervisor Terrence Neuzil, Rettig, and Supervisor John Etheredge reached consensus on building an annex to the courthouse first, Pulkrabek and Supervisor Pat Harney opposed this idea.

County Attorney Janet Lyness did not take a side regarding the issue.

“I mean, I think you need to look at the jail, too,” Lyness said. “I’m not going to oppose any annex to the courthouse because we need it.”

Moving forward, officials said they plan to consult numerous architects. The supervisors indicated they hoped to obtain the expected costs for the two separate proposals by their Dec. 4 meeting.

While compromises were made, Rettig said there would be little hope for the project unless the supervisors come to an agreement on the proposal to put before the public.

“I’m trying to find a compromise to keep seven people on the table,” she said. “Because what I do know is if anybody visibly or verbally says ‘this is a rotten idea,’ we’re toast, and we might as well not go for it.”


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