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Indiana commissioners move ahead on plans for county jail

| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006

The Indiana County commissioners selected a Cambria County architectural firm on Wednesday to design and oversee construction of a new county jail in White Township, south of State Correctional Institution-Pine Grove.

The commissioners also hired a consultant to acquire the real estate and authorized a financial adviser to secure funds to construct and complete the Indiana County Correction Center construction project.

The Indiana County Jail Planning Committee spent 10 months considering options to replace, enlarge or renovate the 32-year-old county jail. County officials say the jail is often overcrowded, lacks modern standards and fails to meet several state and federal regulations.

The proposed $25.3 million, 216-bed facility, is expected to be completed in two years.

The county estimates it may need to raise property taxes by five mills to cover the increase in operating costs and debt service for the jail.

L. Robert Kimball & Associates, of Ebensburg, is the architect for the project. Kimball representative Larry Bickford presented images and details of a project plan showing a horizontal, single-floor design and an additional two levels of inmate housing. There are no plans for fencing around the facility.

The new facility could be expanded in a second phase of construction to house an additional 96 inmates in 48 cells. The facility is expected to last 40 to 50 years, according to Bickford.

"We have a responsibility to do this," commissioner Chairman Rod Ruddock said. "How are we going to pay for it• By tax dollars. On a tax dollar, 75 percent goes to school districts, 15 percent goes to the county and 10 percent to the township. Here we are on 15 percent of tax dollars trying to build a $25 million jail."

One financing option is to raise property taxes starting in 2007. The average property owner who currently pays $233 per year in county property taxes could pay an additional $58 per year by 2009 to cover the jail cost, according to Mark Lundquist, a county financial adviser helping to create a financing strategy. The debt service could cost $1.9 million, he said.

"For the county to fully fund this project, it will cost $2.7 million per year," Lundquist said. "For the average taxpaper, this means the county needs 1.5 mills to finance new operations and 3.5 mills for debt. For less than $5 a month (per property owner), you can have this facility."

The site recommended by the committee for the new facility is a 33-acre parcel between Fyock and Hood School roads. The county has the option through June to purchase it for $165,000. In all, 11 sites were available for purchase ranging up to $1.5 million, according to Commissioner Dave Frick, site selection committee chairman. Along with the cost, the site is preferable since it is just 4.8 miles from the county courthouse and has water and sewage options.

A projected $750,000 to $800,000 increase in annual operating costs over the existing jail is expected. There is no projected increase in the $10 per day assessment inmates currently pay. Some new costs could be recouped should overcrowded, neighboring county jails pay to utilize empty cells.

There are no plans for the current jail building or property.

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