PRINCETON —Gibson County Commissioners voted this week to advertise a request for qualifications from architectural firms for the Gibson County Jail's expansion needs.

"We're not hiring, just asking for proposals," explained County Attorney Jim McDonald, of the process following completion of a jail needs assessment and master plan presented to commissioners in December.

According to that plan compiled by DLR Group, a local jail task force agrees the county needs to build a new jail but is divided over the best option to pursue.

The report's options propose a new 85,028 square-feet 288-bed facility on seven to 10 acres in or near Princeton at an estimated cost of $38.9 million or a new 66,848 square-feet 200-bed facility at an estimated cost of $31.2 million, with the possibility of adding onto the facility in five to 10 years.

It will be up to Gibson County Commissioners to decide on the avenue they’ll take and up to the Gibson County Council to fund the project.

The jail study was ordered by Gibson County Commissioners after the county jail was cited by the Indiana Department of Correction for noncompliance in two annual inspections and the county was named a defendant in a class-action federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of jail inmates in early 2019. According to the federal court case records of the lawsuit, a pre-trial settlement conference is scheduled in this month, and the case is preliminarily scheduled to be tried in September 2020.

DLR Group partner Mark Van Allen presented the 64-page study to commissioners, which reports the facility, designed in 1988, does not comply with Indiana jail standards, nor the U.S. Department of Justice’s standards for accessible design and it does not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

He reported that the jail census consistently exceeds its rated capacity and told commissioners that in order to have a facility that will meet the county’s needs for the next 20 years, the committee determined a facility with about 288 beds would be required.

Tuesday, Sheriff Tim Bottoms reported the average daily census for the jail in 2019 was 107 inmates, including 28 level 6 felony inmates. Last month, the jail census averaged 128 inmates and the community corrections building housed an average 43 work-release inmates.

The report details the study of the committee which also explored using property north and south of the existing jail to expand. Expanding from the current location rather than building a new facility would cost about $41.2 million, according to the report.

The jail task force committee members are Judges Jeffrey Meade and Robert Krieg, Prosecutor Michael Cochren, Gibson County Councilmen Jay Riley, Derek McGraw and Jeremy Overton, Gibson County Sheriff Tim Bottoms, Gibson County Jail Commander Daryl Chamberlain, Gibson County Commissioner Steve Bottoms, Gibson County Economic Development Corporation board member Jeff Clark and Gibson County Attorney Jim McDonald.

The council approved a .2% local option income tax dedicated to Gibson County Jail improvements and operation in October. The county begins collecting the jail tax this month.

Added to the. 7% local option income tax the county collects now, the new tax raises the total LOIT tax rate to .9%, which remains lower than 84 of Indiana’s 92 counties.

The new .2% tax is dedicated solely to capital improvements and operation of the Gibson County Jail, raising an estimated $1.5 million per year, at a cost of about $96 more per year to the median $51,000 annual wage earner in Gibson County.

The jail tax can be imposed for up to 22 years, generating up to $33 million over that timespan. It can also be rescinded at any time.

During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners also approved an ordinance that allows the county to be in compliance with state requirements to be eligible to receive any potential rural broadband grants.

Commissioners last month lent support to efforts to earmark some of the state’s $100 million Next Level Broadband expansion project to provide better internet connectivity infrastructure to Southwest Indiana.

The Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana launched the team effort of economic development teams from Gibson, Vanderburgh and Posey counties in November.

Gibson County residents can visit the Gibson County Economic Development Corporation website https://gibsoncountyedc.org/ and complete a survey describing the quality of or lack of internet access available to residents. Residents can call GCEDC at 812-386-0002 to provide an email for the survey to be sent to them or stop in the office at the corner of Hart and State Streets to fill out a survey.

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