The Sarpy County Board of Commissioners today took its first major step toward building a new jail.
The board unanimously approved a resolution that specifies the west side of the Sarpy County Courthouse Campus as the site for the new jail. The resolution also identifies how the new facility will be paid for.
The county will build the new facility without raising the county tax rate, according to current financial projections.
“We will build a new, much needed multimillion-dollar jail without raising property taxes,” said Sarpy County Board Chairman Don Kelly. “This doesn’t happen by chance, but by keeping a close eye on the bottom line and our hands out of the taxpayer’s wallet.”
Kelly said that building the new jail on the west side of the County Courthouse Campus will have the least impact on neighboring property owners. And, he said, there’s operational efficiencies in placing the judicial and law enforcement services in close proximity.
“Our goal is to blend the design as seamlessly as possible into our existing campus,” Kelly said. “Many people may not even be aware we’ve had a jail on our existing campus for decades, and we’d like to keep it that way.”
The county is constructing a new jail because the current one is overcrowded and does not meet state standards.
The jail has consistently exceeded capacity since the mid-1990s. This forces Sarpy County to transport inmates to other jurisdictions for boarding, which today costs Sarpy taxpayers half a million dollars each year. That amount is expected to continue to climb.
Since 2004, Sarpy County has been on the forefront of developing ways to keep people out of jail through work release, diversion, electronic monitoring and other programs. Last year alone, Sarpy County taxpayers saved $7.7 million in jail costs as a result of those innovative programs.
The alternative programs, however, have not solved the county’s overcrowding crisis. The county recently received a letter from the state saying that the existing Sarpy County jail was again non-compliant with the Nebraska Minimum Jail Standards due to space issues.
“It’s ironic that the state is pointing the finger at Sarpy County for a problem they helped create,” Kelly said. “Legislative Bill 605, which passed in 2015, has exacerbated overcrowding at the county level. The bill was designed to help reduce the state prison population, but what it actually did was shift the problem county jails. The costs to house the additional people in our jail is a cost to Sarpy County taxpayers, and we’ve seen the number of probation detainees go up almost 40% since LB 605 went into effect.”
Sarpy County has studied the jail’s needs and the feasibility of building a new facility for several years. Up to this point, the project has been in the conceptual phase.
The new facility will be paid for with a portion of the county’s existing levy and with a portion of inheritance tax revenue. Together, those funding sources will allocate roughly $6 million per year toward the project, using 2019 property valuation figures.
“We want this project to be successful for everyone involved,” said Jim Warren, County Board Vice Chairman. “Most of all, we want it to be a win for taxpayers. This funding plan accomplishes that.”
Preliminary estimates put the cost of a new facility near $65 million, which includes site preparation, design and construction. The new facility could have approximately 400 beds and include space to provide appropriate mental health care as well was programming and services to help inmates reintegrate into society, thus reducing recidivism.
Next steps include the county approving an architectural agreement and starting formal design in early 2020. The new facility could open as early as 2023. Until then, the current jail will remain in use.