NO Vote on Jail is Explained

For your information - A promotional brochure (campaign flyer) attempting to justify building a new jail is being distributed in the community. It was prepared and printed using your tax dollars. However, NO tax funding was used to prepare this document.

 

Reasons why I voted NO to building an expensive new jail:

Commissioners are counting on you to believe NO levy increases will be required to pay for this project. Decide for yourself.

 

1. Old Jail should be demolished. This is one thing all commissioners agree. For many years, the old jail building was not properly maintained due to campaigns to build a new jail. It was easier to "justify" building something new if the old structure was falling apart. As a direct result, it has failed to meet the high standards of the Dept. of Corrections (DOC) and has become functionally obsolete.

 

2. NO outside, independent assessment of options. Jail options were only analyzed by county staff. NO independent review or analysis was conducted. It was agreed, however, that financial misstatements were made but never corrected. This was very disappointing. Treating or affecting all plans equally cannot occur if the only analysis is conducted by an interested party. Anyone who can reasonably benefit from the end result cannot be considered or viewed as impartial to only the facts.

3. Questionable financial plan. The financial plan designed to pay for the new jail could have been approved years ago, but wasn't because it is unwise, and may not cover the debt for 20-years. The plan relies heavily on County Program Aid (CPA) $500,000 per year (represents a 1.5% levy increase) but this historically has been a very volatile source of funding as any local elected official would agree.

There have been years where this funding has been cut significantly to both counties and cities with no other way to pay for service without raising taxes. It is akin to relying on future inheritance, or a gambling jackpot, to pay your home mortgage payment.

If we had approved this in the past, during a year when CPA funding was reduced by over $700,000, a mortgage payment would have required a substantial levy increase. CPA funds will also not be available for other essential services like capital improvement projects for county roads.

 

4. Mortgage payments cost more than what we were paying for service. The annual mortgage payment for the new jail almost triples our previous budget to $1.35 million. In order to make that large payment, we MUST keep budgeting $500,000 each year (money budgeted last year for out-of-county inmate boarding). The big problem? Seven out of the past eight years* we spent much less than $500,000. *See out-of-county spending below.

 

5. Out-of-County boarding costs have DECREASED during the past 10 years.

2007 cost $772,170 - since then it decreased by at least half to as little as one fifth the cost
2008 cost $409,020
2009 cost $432,770
2010 cost $318,530
2011 cost $147,500
2012 cost $140,290 significantly low cost!
2013 cost $258,485
2014 cost $442,120 nearly half the cost of 2007 service! Still less than the new jail plan requires $500,000 and much less than the new jail mortgage payment! (Trends in incarceration always vary from year to year.)


6. Most counties, even with the largest jails, still send prisoners out to other jails. Our jail administrator recently confirmed that even after a new jail is built we will still pay for out-of-county boarding AND now the cost of the new jail. Just like we do now but without a new mortgage payment. In fact, if we had the new jail to use today based on the current population of inmates, we would have needed to send 5 people out-of-county this year. The out-of-county average is 15 people, using the current jail, so it makes very little difference. Classification is what determines if/when inmates go, not jail size.

When the new mortgage payment requires the entire budget, we still need to "find" or essentially take money for this expense from somewhere else, or increase taxes. No plan has been approved for continued out-of-county costs.

 

7. LESS crime? 2015 arrest data prepared by the Sheriff's Department shows a 30% DECREASE in crime! Our jail is so full it's "busting at the seams" when we have less crime? You cannot have it both ways. Either there is less crime and fewer inmates or not.

 

8. State prison inmates? Since the jail will be built too large and sit half-empty, it is a real possibility that it could get filled with State prison inmates, just like other county jails with extra space. Shipping felons in will not make our community safer.

 

9. Thirty-two (32) construction contracts were awarded for this project. It concerned me for two reasons. (1) Only one contract went to a local business. A contract for $926,720 was awarded to a reputable business, RE: Peterson, Inc., out of Lindstrom, MN. (2) I learned the company may be owned by a relative of Sheriff Duncan.

 

10. Retired bond debt should be refunded to taxpayers! Three bonds will be retired in coming years that equal almost a 5% levy reduction. However, if commissioners use this money for a new jail, they stop this levy reduction/refund.

 

11. No legal requirement to act. It was recently stated that "no elected official wanted to build a jail". Well there was NO requirement to build this building so they should have voted no!

 

12. Large unfunded mandates should never fall on property taxpayers. If the State Department of Corrections wants local jails, let them pay for the projects rather than relying on local funding.

 

13. More critical services may not be funded. Several county roads were "given" to townships and cities recently. At a time when Federal road funding was reduced by 40%. It is critical to public safety that we work diligently to maintain the same level of road service and invest in roads used everyday by everyone. Unfortunately for us all, approving the jail, means the county will now need to "tighten its belt" on funding new road projects for the next 5-years.

 

14. A New Jail costs more money now. Commissioners focused on saving money 15-20 years from now to justify building a new facility. In doing so, an opportunity was lost to save millions NOW, and during the next 10 years with another plan. A $25.3 million dollar county investment could have been delayed for a decade.

 

15. The time value of money (TVM) reflects a dollar in the present is worth more than the same dollar in the future due to variables such as interest rates and inflation. So why would commissioner’s waste money now? It is simple economics!

 

16. No building maintenance budgeted. In order to present a financial plan with costs as low as possible the commissioners did not include any building maintenance again. I assure you the building will need repairs during the next 20-years. The only question is how much and who is paying the bill.

 

17. The counties high bond rating may be downgraded. For many years, the county has held a strong Aa2 bond rating based on solid financial management. In part, rating agencies look at many factors including how much reserve money is available to pay the bills and how much bonding debt is held at any time. More debt = less borrowing power and potentially higher interest rates for any future projects. Our strong financial standing is now unnecessarily at risk.

In conclusion, my focus has always been on buying a service while other commissioners have focused on building a building. All proposals would work. By implementing a strong, results-driven incarceration program and managing it to assure it didn't evolve into a bloated government program; we had the most potential to halt new expenses.

Much research, analysis and consideration of various proposals over the years ended last week after the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 (Walker voted NO) to award contracts and immediately begin constructing the jail and new staff office building.

In the end, my analysis showed there were so many problems with the proposal to build a new facility it was fiscally irresponsible to support it. I could not ethically vote for it. Only time will tell how many levy's may increase to support other services essentially starved by throwing so much money at building this jail and a new office building for the Sheriff's Department.

Based on this boards' strategy to "rob Peter to pay Paul" by approving this type of financial plan, we are placed in a very risky financial position, that ties the hands of all future boards for the next 20-years. Never mind our financial future, we will immediately rush to build a jail insisting it will remain levy-neutral (this year) during a re-election year, and learn later the real result and cost to taxpayers.

Representing Chisago County District 1

North Branch C, Chisago City, Lent Township, and North Chisago Lakes Township

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