by Ivan Foley
Platte County will not be seeing the construction of a new jail if county commissioners listen to the recommendation of their jail advisory committee.
However, some seemed to take issue with the committee's recommendations, in particular the committee’s suggestion of a funding option for present and future law enforcement needs.
During Monday's Platte County Commission meeting, Dagmar Wood, jail committee member, presented the commissioners with the findings of the committee.
The committee was formed by commissioners on May 19 to help county officials study the short and long term needs of the county's jail, judicial and prosecutorial facilities as well as ideas for funding if required.
According to Wood, the committee reached a unanimous agreement on six items but could not agree on one item.
Wood said committee members agreed there was no current need to justify the construction of a new jail or expanding facilities to house inmates. Wood said the average daily prison population today is approximately 119 prisoners. She said the jail has the capacity to hold 154 inmates.
However, if commissioners do wish to expand the basement area of the jail, known as futures, committee members unanimously recommended commissioners should engage the architects from Williams Spurgeon Kuhl & Freshnock (WSKF) to serve as an independent expert.
WSKF officials were with the architectural firm that was involved in the construction of the current jail facility.
According to Wood, WSKF officials provided a member of the committee with a verbal quote between $2,000 to $3,500 to prepare an estimate on how the futures area could be used and an estimate as to what the cost of that construction would be.
Commissioner Beverlee Roper seemed surprised that the committee had received a verbal quote from WSKF. Roper said she had attended a jail committee meeting and had told the committee not to get a quote from WSKF officials. Roper also said she had county counselor Bob Shaw write his opinion in an e-mail that was sent to the committee about why this was not a good idea. However, Wood said she did not get an email.
“We did not receive anything from Mr. Shaw,” Wood said. “Or at least I did not.”
Committee members also recommended that there should be no discussion with Kansas City, Mo. in regard to a long-term contract to house KCMO prisoners.
“Housing inmates of KCMO brings inherent lawsuit risks as well as placing a financial burden on Platte County that is unnecessary,” the committee wrote in its report.
According to Wood, the committee also felt that the prosecutor offices needed attention in the future through expansion. Committee members also agreed that the county should incur no new debt if they wish to expand the futures area of the jail or remodel administrative offices. The committee believes with its proposed financing option the county could begin saving dollars and pay for eventual needs in cash.
She said a realignment of the park tax could also go toward the county’s $10 million emergency radio project, for which no previous county commission has established a revenue stream.
Finally, committee members unanimously agreed that the initial expert reports provided to the committee regarding a proposed jail expansion and county population projections--as originally relied upon by the commission and sheriff--should be discarded.
“Data within those reports conflicted with the findings of the committee and data provided by the sheriff,” the committee report states.
According to Wood, the only item that the committee was unable to reach a unanimous decision on was the means for financing the eventual fitting of the futures area and the remodeling of administrative offices.
However, Wood said a majority of the committee did agree on an option to fund the construction of the futures area when it needed to be expanded. She said the option the majority of the committee agreed upon was the reallocation of the existing half cent parks sales tax. Woods said the members who did not agree with the half cent parks tax said they felt the decision of funding should be left up to the commission.
Although the jail committee was not expected to be completed with its research until Sept. 1, members hoped to speak to the commission sooner so that commissioners could decide whether to allow voters the opportunity to decide on reallocating the half cent parks sales tax to future jail expansion.
Under the proposal, the committee suggests asking voters to approve adjusting the park tax down by 1/8th cent and redirecting that 1/8th cent to law enforcement needs. This would require voter approval of two questions on the same ballot. The first question would ask voters to reduce the park tax by 1/8th cent. The second question on the same ballot, which would only become pertinent if the first question passes, would ask voters to allocate that 1/8th cent to law enforcement.
The committee suggests the county commission put the issue on the November ballot.
Wood said if the commissioners agreed to allow a public vote on the matter, there was an Aug. 26 deadline to get it on the ballot for the upcoming November election.
Platte County Commissioner Duane Soper questioned whether it was only Wood who supported realigning the half cent park sales tax or was it actually members of the committee.
“Is this your personal recommendation?” Soper questioned.
Wood said it was the opinion of the majority of the committee. Soper said he was contacted via email by jail committee member Cory Ball. Ball, who was not in attendance at the meeting, accused members of the committee of having personal or political agendas.
When Soper and Roper questioned which committee members voted in favor of reallocating the park sales tax, Wood said she and committee members Jacque Cox, Susan Huffman and Jeff Watson voted in favor of reallocating the funds. She said Ball, Galen Dean and Paul Dobbie were against.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, an elected official and county official spoke against realigning the half cent parks sales tax to pay for the funding of any type of jail expansion project.
Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston was the first to speak against the matter.
“Our parks department has brought a lot to Platte County,” Johnston said.
According to Johnston, area parks have brought economic development into Platte County. While Johnston does not disagree that there is a need for funding for public safety, she said she does not believe it should come from an adjustment of the half cent currently going to the parks department.
Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson also spoke to the commissioners about the matter. Although he had not read the final jail committee report, Robinson said he offered his assistance from the beginning to the committee. Robinson said he was also against the jail being paid for by realigning half cent parks sales tax and said parks officials were good stewards with their money. While Robinson said he did not want to raise taxes, the money for an expansion had to come from somewhere.
He said he would present the jail committee with information about operational reduction.
After the meeting when The Landmark questioned Soper and Roper about the jail committee's recommendations, they both had similar opinions.
Soper said he had not had a lot of time to take in the information.
“I have really not had enough time to dissect it all,” Soper said. “There is so much more to it than just their report. Obviously the comments made by the public earlier need to be addressed. We need to look at the county's parks and what would have to be eliminated. My thought as well is people have already voted once, is it right to take it away? It is one of the reasons we live in a democracy.”
Roper said she thought the jail committee did a wonderful job but also wanted to look into the matter further.
“I thought the jail committee did a great job. I may disagree with using the parks tax at this point because what has been promised to the taxpayer on the parks tax. I thought they did a wonderful job.”
Roper said she had no idea when the commission would make a decision about what the committee presented. She said she felt the commission needed to go through the Platte County Parks Master Plan so they can determine if cuts can be made before presenting the idea to the public.
Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, said:
"The jail study group has done a lot of work during the past couple of months and brought forth a list of recommendations. All the committee members are to be commended for their time and effort.
“This commission must now look at the recommendations and begin to develop policy that best moves the entire county forward concerning funding of our emergency radio system and law enforcement. There are several decisions yet to be determined and I believe the county commission needs to meet in order to reach a final decision,” Brown told The Landmark.
Brown said the entire jail committee report is available to the public through the commission office and will also be online at the county's website at co.platte.mo.us.