Sarpy County is the fastest growing county in the state, attracting new residential, commercial and industrial developments. But that expansion doesn’t come without growing pains, according to Sarpy County Board Chair Don Kelly.
During a presentation at the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the County event on Tuesday, Kelly specifically cited growth as a driving factor behind the County’s need for a new jail and mental health facility.
“Sarpy County is at a precipice. And it’s going to take bold actions moving forward to keep up with our growth,” he said.
Sarpy County opened the current 148-bed jail facility in 1989, when the county’s population was just over 100,000 residents. It was designed to meet the County’s needs through 2020. However, the jail reached capacity in the mid-1990s, and the County began paying to house inmates at other facilities.
When voters rejected a $15.5 million bond issue to add 160 beds to the jail in 2002, the County implemented several Alternative to Incarceration Programs, including pre-trial release, work release, house arrest and diversion services, to keep non-violent offenders out of jail.
In 2017, Sarpy County’s population topped 180,000 residents, and the jail held between 150 and 200 inmates a day, in addition to the 40 to 60 housed at other facilities. Another 250 to 300 people participate in the alternative programs.
Over the past 10 years, Sarpy County has spent almost $5 million to house inmates at other facilities, some as far away as Buffalo and Richardson counties, in addition to $1 million in transportation costs. The County’s boarding costs are expected to reach $2.9 a year by 2025, which is unsustainable, Kelly said.
In his presentation, Kelly laid out the County’s path forward. The next steps include identifying and purchasing land for the new facility; engaging an architectural firm to begin initial design; determining building and operational costs; and continuing transition to a civilian run Corrections Department.
The County has already begun the search for a site for the new jail. County staff is working with DLR Architects and HDR Engineering to evaluate potential sites. That team is looking for a site that provides the least impact possible to neighboring properties; does not inhibit future economic development opportunities; is centrally located and easily accessible for all law enforcement agencies in the county; is large enough to be appropriately buffered; and is large enough to support future County facilities.