Jail inmates from Gage, Jefferson and Saline counties could soon be housed together after elected officials from the three counties met to discuss forming an inter-county agreement for a “regional jail facility” on Nov. 4.
Gage County supervisors Matt Bauman and Myron Dorn met with Jefferson County Commissioner Michael Dux and Saline County Commissioner Willis Luedtke, as well as each county’s sheriff in Wilber to hold an “initial” discussion about the strain of jail operations on all three counties' budgets.
“Basically, everybody was around the room shaking their heads saying ‘the three of us are going to work together,’” Bauman said. “I don’t think there’s a desire for Saline to do something new, Gage County to do something new, and Jefferson to do something new.”
According to a handout provided to board members and the media, the focus of the meeting included discussions on each of the jail facilities’ age and condition; the operating expenses past, present and future; inmate capacity at all three facilities for local, state and federal levels; the effect of the jail standards board on operations; current tax levies; and other infrastructure needs.
Officials from all three counties said the benefit of working together is tangible.
Luedtke said the meeting was positive, and his county welcomes any cooperative effort with Gage and Jefferson counties.
“We already house overflow for Gage County, we house overflow for Jefferson County and they house overflow for us,” Luedtke said. “We’ve had a good working relationship between the counties already.”
Saline’s 89-prisoner facility costs the county between $1.5-$1.6 million each year to operate. The original 48-bed facility and accompanying law enforcement center was completed in 2000 for $4.5 million and a 35-bed annex was added later for an additional $1.5 million.
Taxpayers in the county are also paying $420,000 per year on a bond issue for the facility which comes to maturity in 2020.
Luedtke said Saline County also houses inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service, which also causes inmate numbers to fluctuate.
Jefferson County Commissioner Michael Dux said the discussions are “very preliminary” but positive.
“I think there was an interest on everybody’s side and maybe we’ll meet in the future when they can give us a rough ballpark figure as to what a price would be for us to use their facility,” Dux said.
The Jefferson County Jail, like Gage County’s, was built in the 1970s. Dux said although the jail is in good shape, it is becoming outdated.
“And from time to time, it’s not big enough,” he said. The county can hold up to 18 prisoners in the jail.
“I think it’s something certainly worth looking into and it seems to me Saline County has space,” Dux said. “That’s certainly the direction we’re going to go at this point in time.”
If an agreement is reached between the counties, Bauman said Gage County would then examine building a 96-hour holding facility to house fresh arrests awaiting bond setting in Gage County Court.
Long-term inmates unable to make bond and sentenced inmates would then be transported to Saline County.
The 96-hour holding facility would not require the same standards as the current Gage County Detention Center and would be able to be operated with less funding, Bauman said.
Gage County Sheriff Millard "Gus" Gustafson said a shorter-term facility would change the entire way the jail operates.
“If we go to a shorter-term facility, a lot of the standards go away -- recreational, visitation, grievance process -- a lot of those things aren’t requirements that I have,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson said the three counties realized they could mutually benefit from sharing a jail facility, which Bauman and Dorn echoed.
Dorn said all three counties are worried about future funding for jails while also maintaining other infrastructure.
“That’s probably why this was brought about for discussion and if there was enough interest for something there to work out and proceed forward,” Dorn said.
In recent months, Gage County officials have examined ways to continue making repairs on the aging detention center while saving money on boarding prisoners in neighboring counties.
Following a defeated bond issue for an $11.4 million jail in 2009, the county board has spent $120,000 annually on improvements in the jail while looking for other fixes.
Gustafson and the Gage County Attorney’s Office have examined holding prisoners in Washington County, Kan. for as little as $35 per day, although no agreement has been reached.
Holding prisoners in Gage County costs $76 per day.