03/22/2001

Build it and they will come; New jail fulfills sheriff's dreams county plans 130-bed facility
[Akron, OH]

By Kit Miniclier, Denver Post Staff Writer,
March 19, 2001 Monday 1st Edition
Copyright 2001 The Denver Post Corporation
The Denver Post
March 19, 2001 Monday 1st Edition

(AKRON, Ohio) -- There isn't any crime wave in Washington County, but it is replacing its six-bed jail with one designed for 130 inmates and hopes to fill it this fall.

Akron's field of dreams isn't a ballfield, but a deep, squishy field of mud around a $ 6.9 million construction site that will include the county jail, a justice center replete with courtroooms, a dispatch center and sheriff's department.

Washington County, which is about the size of Delaware but has fewer than two residents per square mile and a shrinking tax base, isn't really able to afford the new complex.

But that doesn't matter.

The project, with a total price tag of about $ 9 million, is being built without any increase in local taxes and without a supporting bond issue.

Instead, it is being financed by Denver broker-dealer Jim Anderson of Municipal Capital Market, whose financers will own the structure until it is paid off by the county 30 years down the road.

It is the fulfillment of a six-year dream for Sheriff Al English, who managed to win the support of two different sets of county commissioners over the intervening years.

Inmates slept on floor

When English was elected in 1994, he knew the American Civil Liberties Union was breathing down the county's neck because it often had prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the 60-year-old Washington County Jail.

When there are 10 or 11 prisoners, as there often are, some still sleep on the floor. There isn't any exercise yard, but English says, 'we try to take 'em outside, whenever we have officers available, for five or 10 minutes at least twice a week.'

His idea was to replace his county jail, which really is a cage of bars in the basement of the 92-year-old county courthouse, with a much larger jail and then rent the extra inmate beds to neighboring counties, the federal government or others needing cell space.

At one point the site was on the west side of town, and was going to be built by a private, for-profit prison firm and was to house 352 inmates. Today the much-smaller, county-run facility is on the east side of town and its walls and roof are virtually complete.

A similar lease-purchase agreement was arranged by Anderson to replace the Las Animas County Jail in Trinidad and there have been others in Douglas and Teller counties, Anderson said.

Lease-purchase deals common

As a matter of fact, lease-purchase agreements are increasingly common for local governments because they aren't considered long-term debt, said Kent Gumina of the state Division of Local Government.

In theory, federal agencies will lease bed space at about $ 52 a day, and that revenue, plus $ 200,000 in tax money that is already being used to maintain the old jail, will pay off the project.

However, if the scheme fails, the county isn't stuck with the debt because the financers are the owners, and they just take over the facility until the debt is paid off, Anderson and English said.

English says he has made arrangements to lease all the spare jail beds the first year to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Marshal's Office and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

 

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