DeKALB – Three options for expanding the DeKalb County Jail were unveiled during a Wednesday workshop, all of them costing millions more than County Board members wanted to spend.
The cheapest was a $29 million proposal to add 163 beds. Another option was a $34.5 million plan to add 219 beds, and the third was a $38 million expansion that would add 219 beds along with amenities such as a partial basement and geothermal energy system. The jail now has enough space for 89 inmates.
County Board members said they want to spend only $23 million on the expansion project, most of which is expected to come from increased revenue from dumping fees when the county landfill is expanded.
“We could think about what we want and what we need, but we’ve got to think about what we can afford,” said Anthony Cvek, a Sycamore Republican from District 4.
Board members took no action at the meeting, but did offer their own ideas about the project in addition to those presented by County Administrator Gary Hanson. Members discussed the possibility of creating more space in the jail by moving administrative offices out. One suggested destination was the Elburn Co-Op at 108 N. Main St., which is next door to the Public Safety Building in Sycamore.
Hanson discussed the possibility of raising sales or property taxes to fund a jail expansion, which would require a referendum. One possibility could be a quarter-cent public safety sales tax and a half-cent sales tax.
Hanson realized the unpopularity of raising taxes – county voters twice have rejected a tax increase for expanding the jail, most recently in 2006 – but his presentation pointed out a half-cent sales tax would generate $3.2 million.
DeKalb County Sheriff’s Lt. Joyce Klein said the jail needs to be expanded now because the current facility is not up to code. There are currently no isolation cells for inmates who are mentally ill or experiencing drug withdrawals. Jail overcrowding has also led to inmates having to be transported to other county jails, which costs about $1 million a year, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said.
“When we’re trying to watch people who are suicidal and going through withdrawal, we don’t really have that type of space to do that to,” Klein said.
County Board members approved a plan to expand the jail in 2012. The plan was shelved when a community group filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the expansion of the landfill. The legal challenge was rejected by a state appellate court last May, and construction on the landfill expansion began this spring.
Now, plans are to start jail construction in 2016 and open the new jail in 2018.
Jeffery Metzger, County Board chairman and a Sandwich Republican, said the board needs to act soon or estimated costs to construct the expanded jail will continue to climb.
He said a referendum might be needed if officials cannot come up with a specific $23 million plan.
“We’re all in agreement we need to do something,” Metzger said.