DeKALB – If time is money, then the 22-year delay in expanding the DeKalb County jail has cost more than a few dollars.
It was 1990 when the National Institute of Corrections first reported the county’s jail was overcrowded and a new facility was needed. Multiple failed referendum attempts later, the county now spends more than $1 million to house inmates in other counties and is fighting to start a $27 million jail expansion funded by a landfill expansion plan that an appellate court is reviewing.
DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said he would not have believed 22 years would pass from when the need for expansion was first reported until something was done, and said he is certain the project has grown in scope and cost as delays have continued.
Scott estimated the project would have cost at least $5 million less had a 2004 proposal for a half-cent sales tax for public safety been approved.
“I think just looking at the construction costs, it would have been cheaper back then, even four or five years ago,” he said. “It certainly would have saved significant dollars.”
With a fixed funding source identified, DeKalb County Administrator Ray Bockman said the price of the project can no longer change, as $27 million is what would come from the landfill expansion agreement with Waste Management. What could still change from now until the target date of April 2014 for the groundbreaking is the scope of the project.
The size of the project continues to grow as the inmate population increases. The 2004 study by Mark Goldman & Associates projected the jail would need 237 beds by 2025. The 2011 study by current planners Kimme & Associates expects a need for 276 beds by 2025 and 330 by 2030.
Dennis Kimme, lead developer, said the increase was a result of an influx of Chicago offenders and the commission of more serious and more violent crimes that involved longer pretrial and pre-sentencing jail stays.
Bockman said as those projections might increase, the price could not, and $27 million in 2012 will not go as far in the spring of 2014 or later if more delays occur. He said the only way to add “alternates” – which would add millions to the total – such as a built-out kitchen and office spaces in the new jail would be through lower-than-expected bids.
“The sooner we can bid out the project, we have a better chance of the cost being lower,” Bockman said, adding bond rates likely would increase in the coming months after hitting historic lows.
Deputy County Administrator Gary Hanson said for every six months the project is delayed past the April 2014 target, the $27 million would lose about $500,000 in purchasing power, in turn requiring sacrifices and adjustments in the plan.
Bockman said there is an inherent problem with jail systems in that they are a mandated, uncapped service and the state has not sufficiently addressed what counties can do when residents vote down tax increases to expand services to meet growing stresses on the system.
“The county is obligated to provide this service and there is no limit on how many people are able to consume that service,” he said.
Ruth Anne Tobias, a DeKalb Democrat who is chairwoman of the Ad Hoc Jail Committee, said she understood why residents voted down public safety tax proposals in the past, as it is always difficult to increase taxes, but she added many may not know the extent of the problems at the jail.
She said the jail faces an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem because people are aware of the issues but cannot see them. Even with the delays, she said, the county is on the best path now because it saves taxpayer dollars and earlier action might not have resulted in a project with enough future forecasting.
That turned out to be the case when the existing jail opened in 1981 with the projection that it would meet the needs of the county through 2001. It was overcrowded by 1990.
“I think the plan now is good to meet current needs and have space available for future,” she said. “I think we are in the right place now at the right time.”