PRINCETON — Gibson County Commissioners want to act on an option to purchase property near the Gibson County Jail, and asked Gibson County Council members Tuesday to allocate $170,500 to help them buy it.
County Attorney James McDonald told the council that commissioners will use $35,150 from the Economic Development Income Tax fund to buy the former Standard Printing property at 322 North Prince Street. Commissioners also have $57,000 allocated toward the purchase of the Schafer building at 314 North Main Street, just north of the Gibson County Jail. They asked the council to appropriate the remaining $170,500 for the purchase of the Schafer property.
McDonald said the $227,500 purchase price is lower than the original asking price for the Schafer property. The county had the property appraised, as is required by statute.
The land purchase was discussed late last year as the county explores options for finding more jail space, although no definitive action is planned yet for expanding the jail or building elsewhere.
"I'm not for buying anything at this point," councilman Bill McConnell told McDonald.
"You can control your own destiny, by that meaning the property around the jail, and give yourself some different options," McDonald responded, pointing out "unfunded mandates by the legislature, which basically changed the criminal code and threw everything to the counties," which are forcing commissioners and sheriff to explore options for finding more jail space. "Don't tie your hands behind your back," he told the council.
Councilman Derek McGraw said it's virtually impossible to develop a workable expansion plan in the current situation.
"My only hang-up is that it seems like a lot for a building we're going to tear down," said councilman Craig Pflug. "It's good business to acquire the property," he agreed, but stipulated that commissioners need to take on the responsibility or find grant funding to demolish the property.
Commissioner Steve Bottoms said purchasing the property doesn't lock the county into expanding a jail at that site. "We still need to get rid of the building," he said, to solve some drainage and environmental issues.
Council members voted 5-2 (Mike Stilwell and McConnell dissenting) to advertise the additional appropriation from the county's cumulative capital building fund.
McDonald said that with five days left to act on the option to buy, he will negotiate a closing date with the seller.
Commissioners sent a response last week to the Indiana Department of Corrections regarding a July inspection of the jail that found the jail and commissioners in violation of the state's jail standards, and required an action plan within 180 days.
While the county hasn't arrived at a construction or expansion solution, commissioners reported in the letter that with help from judges and the county prosecutor, the average census is down to about 110 inmate. The maximum capacity of the jail is 120 inmates.
Sheriff Tim Bottoms reported 80 percent capacity of the jail is 96 inmates, and 95 inmates were in the jail Tuesday. At the time of that inspection, there were 140 inmates in custody. At its highest census, the jail has housed 189 inmates. "You can't operate safely with 189 people in a jail," Bottoms said, noting that there's no way to anticipate when the number of inmates increases. "If there's a drug sweep there may be another 20 or 40 people."
He asked the council to consider hiring five additional corrections officers to the jail staff, as recommended in the inspection report. Earlier the council agreed to add one more jailer to the staff, and that new employee is scheduled to start later this month.
Commissioner Steve Bottoms said that adding more jailers to the staff won't put the jail in compliance, "but it would help a lot."
Councilman Jeremy Overton said he would like to see the response the county gets from DOC to the letter sent last week, then take action.
"We think it's an immediate issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible," said Steve Bottoms. Adding jail staff is an interim solution "that will help but doesn't solve the problem," he said.
"It's a big problem all over the state...they can't come along and impose on every county," McConnell said of the DOC citations.
The sheriff said the cost to pay 10 jailers and one transport officer would be about $300,000 per year "for the safety of inmates and for the officers.
"All it takes is one incident in that jail and that's gonna cost you a million," he told the council.
Stilwell offered a compromise motion to hire two new corrections officers now, supported by McGraw. The council voted unanimously to advertise an additional appropriation for the salary and benefits for two more corrections officer.