The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 18, 2022 1:00 am


Spending proposal

Officials wise to shun rescue plan funding as outline takes shape for new county jail

It is not really surprising that Allen County Commissioners are going to build a new jail expected to be completed by June 2026.

Given the number of deficiencies with the current structure on East Superior Street, new construction is a sure way to fulfill a federal district court judge's order in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the prisoners.

On March 31, U.S. District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty found the Allen County Jail overcrowded and inhumane. The judge gave the county 45 days to come up with a plan.

In its report to the court, commissioners are considering either constructing an entirely new jail facility or building new construction for certain classifications of inmates while maintaining some of the existing jail, according to a story by Journal Gazette reporter Devan Filchak.

Based on projections on mental health and chemical dependency/addiction issues for the county, both plans would make a total of 1,500 beds available.

The timeline now is for the schematic design by September, design development by June 2023, construction documents by August 2023, and bidding of and funding of construction by December 2023.

Early this month, commissioners said they were actively looking for 60 to 70 acres of suitable land, with access to Citilink, public water and sewer, suitable soil and broadband access.

Although funding details are not finalized, one estimate is in the $300 million range. And none of that will come out of the $73 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Acts passed by Congress in March 2021.

Like so many other federally funded initiatives, ARPA is subject to a rigid spending criterion, with investments going toward several projects ranging from infrastructure repair and expansion to boosting the local economy and quality of place. Funds can also subsidize government services that lost revenue because of the pandemic and provide premium pay or grants to a recipient's essential workers.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Nelson Peters told The Journal Gazette that the county is working with Chicago-based consultancy Baker Tilly, which has a history of counseling local governmental and publicly owned bodies such as the Allen County Public Library.

Although not as far along in the process as the city, which submitted its plan for distributing more than $50 million in ARPA money to the city council in March, the county commissioners are considering where to allocate funds, including working with small businesses and nonprofits, affordable housing, cyber security, sewer and water, and expanding broadband, particularly in the eastern part of the county, Peters said.

The feds require Allen County to have its ARPA plan in place by the end of 2024 and the funds distributed before the end of 2026, coincidentally the same time the jail is expected to open.

ARPA money can create generational change for communities. Imagine the 2030s with less drug addiction and more help for the mentally ill, partially made possible by funds from a terrible pandemic. And as a collateral benefit, a likely reduction in the jail population.

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