Architect’s renderings of two potential scenarios for a major expansion to the Platte County Jail have been made public.
The renderings were presented by county officials during a meeting of the Platte County Mayors Council, which was held at the Platte County Administration Building last Wednesday morning. Those in attendance included mayors from Riverside, Weston, Weatherby Lake, Platte Woods, Parkville, Tracy, and Houston Lake.
A couple of the mayors were not shy about giving the county commission pushback on certain aspects of the proposal. The most vocal with pointed questions was Kathy Rose, mayor of Riverside.
After the meeting, Rose left no doubt about her stance on the proposed jail addition brought forth by the county commission.
“I think hard questions need to be asked. I just think that there were other solutions. I don’t know if they vetted other solutions,” Rose told The Landmark.
Platte County voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, April 2 to decide the fate of a $65 million sales tax increase which would primarily be used to fund a major expansion of the county jail.
The county jail currently has 180 beds. The proposed addition, according to materials distributed by the county, would add an additional approximate 200 beds, for a total of 380, with a “shell” in place for more.
Jail population fluctuates. In late February, the inmate count dipped to 146. On Tuesday of this week it was at 164. About 15 of those are prisoners of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency to which the county rents bed space to generate revenue.
Information handed out by county officials indicates a recent jail study by a consultant projected the county’s jail population to increase by 7.4 inmates per year. That’s considerably less than the number county commissioners had mentioned last summer when jail discussions first became public. Commissioners in August said they were expecting jail population to grow by anywhere from 15-20 inmates annually.
“ICE is on a day-to-day contract. We do not have to keep them. If cells get full we can get rid of those inmates,” Sheriff Mark Owen said at last Wednesday’s meeting. Of the two drawings, Scenario 1 shows the entire expansion being constructed on the existing county footprint. Scenario 2 shows much of the construction taking place east of the existing jail, across Fourth Street, on land that is now a small park/former swimming pool site owned by the City of Platte City.
Owen said the city “hasn’t committed 100 percent yet” to taking part in the project in any fashion. “They’re still in discussion with themselves,” he said.
Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt recently has declined to comment on any potential sale of property or any potential partnership of any type with the county. Offutt had a scheduling conflict and was not in attendance at the meeting.
Major Erik Holland of the sheriff’s department said the architect has estimated that either scenario could be constructed for about $43 million. That figure had been presented last August when discussions first became public, meaning it is not likely that the $43 million estimate includes what are most certain to be an increase in financing costs brought about by the county’s bond rating recently falling into junk status.
Scenario 1 shows the new jail housing being built on what is now an employee/officeholders parking lot just to the north of the administration building. It shows multiple levels, described as potentially three floors by John Elliott, second district commissioner.
“That design has three floors, we would start out using two floors, with the third floor optional,” Elliott said.
The scenario shows new sheriff’s office facilities to the east of the proposed new jail addition, facing Third Street. The new sheriff’s office is shown in blue on the drawing.
The existing jail would still be used, after some repairs are made to it, including sewer repairs and electronic lock improvements, etc., county officials have said. The drawing for Scenario 1 also displays the existing sheriff’s office being turned over to the county prosecutor’s office. Also shown is renovation of the existing booking area to medical housing. The kitchen and laundry area of the existing jail would be renovated and expanded. Open area in the basement of the existing jail, known as “futures,” would be renovated into space for evidence storage, records storage and other general storage.
Scenario 2 shows new jail construction on what is now Platte City-owned park property to the east of the current facility, on the east side of Fourth Street. It shows an elevated walkway above Fourth Street, meaning the street would not be closed. Ellliott said in this scenario, the new building will have one level of full build out and a second floor designed for future occupancy. The second floor will have core and shell only to start.
New sheriff’s department office facilities would be on the northeast side of the structure (shown in blue on the Scenario 2 drawing).
According to information handed out at the mayors council, any of the $65 million remaining after construction of the jail addition and repairs/improvements to the existing jail would go to additional space to address needs of the prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office, renovation of the existing jail basement to accommodate storage space for records and evidence and storage of emergency response equipment, presumably such as the sheriff department’s command bus and armored vehicle, an additional courtroom and court office space to address possible future needs of the court system, repairs to or replacement of roofs for county buildings, if funds are available.
Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, said Platte County Presiding Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg is not proposing another judge at this time.
Kathy Rose, mayor of Riverside, asked if the county had considered looking at vacant office space in privately owned buildings near the county complex, such as along the square in downtown Platte City, for future needs of the prosecutor and/or other county offices. She also asked commissioners if they had considered vacating the administration building and then dedicating that space to jail needs while taking other county offices to another location. County officials said the “shell” of the existing administration would not work for a jail, and would require a complete tear down.
The effects of the newly announced rule change in the courts effective July 1, when courts will avoid jailing people awaiting trial who are neither a danger to the public or a flight risk but simply too poor to afford cash bail, were briefly discussed. The change was first reported by Owen and Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd to drop jail population in at least one test county by 30%. But Owen now says he’s not sure that is accurate.
Zahnd on Wednesday said it is too early to determine what effect the rule change will have.
“What exactly the rule change will mean, everybody is still trying to figure out. There will be significant changes in terms of pre-trial detention and bonds but what’s not clear is what the effect will be on jail population,” Zahnd said at Wednesday’s meeting.
County commissioners received a little pushback from a couple of the mayors when the talk turned to potential financing costs. The county’s bond rating has been lowered into junk or default status, with the first downgrades happening last fall when the commission made public comments about the possibility of not making payments on the Zona Rosa bonds for parking garages, and then downgraded again when the county did not make the December payment.
Toward the end of Wednesday’s discussion, Elliott said: “I just want to conclude with this. There are two things that are almost impossible to get back: good schools and low crime.”
Rose, the Riverside mayor, quickly said: “What about your bond rating?”
Elliott paused before quietly saying “We’ll be addressing that.”
A bit later, Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston pushed the commission on what potential financing costs for the jail addition might be, due to the tanking of the county’s bond rating. The county is currently in a lawsuit with a court decision on whether the county is legally on the hook for Zona Rosa bonds possibly coming in May.
“Say the court ruling goes in your favor, does that automatically fix your bond rating”” she asked Schieber.
“I can’t discuss legal strategy at this point,” Schieber said.
Johnston: “I don’t know if it’s a legal question.”
Platte Woods Mayor John Smedley then said: “Maybe a better way to word the question is would it have a positive or a negative effect?”
Schieber didn’t respond. Johnston then said: “It would probably be neutral.”
Rose then encouraged the commissioners to be ready to talk about the financing at the upcoming information sessions on the proposed jail tax.
“You’re going to be faced with it at every meeting. It’s going to be in the face of your deal,” she said.
Johnston, in an email exchange with county commissioner Dagmar Wood last summer, said she preferred the county pursue property tax increase because that would more easily allow cities such as Parkville pursue sales tax solutions to city issues. Parkville is asking for a half cent sales tax increase in the April election to fund parks. In that email exchange, Johnston pointed out consumers are only willing to pay a certain amount in sales tax.
Rose on Wednesday said “Municipalities are very protective of sales tax. We like to keep sales tax to have the ability to do the things that we have to do in our own communities.”
Six upcoming public education sessions on the proposal are:
Saturday, March 16: Platte County South Community Center in Parkville, 8875 Clark Ave., Parkville, 10 a.m.
Monday, March 18: West Platte Fire Station, 17870 Hwy. 45, Weston, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 19: Platte County North Community Center, Platte City, 3101 Running Horse Rd., Platte City, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 21: Riverside Community Center, 4498 NW High Drive, Riverside, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 27: Camden Point Fire Station, 19959 Interurban Road, Camden Point. 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 28: Platte County Resource Center, 11724 NW Plaza Circle, Kansas City. 6:30 p.m.