Correctional facilities study OK'd

Correctional facilities study OK'd

URBANA — Champaign County Board members Thursday gave the go-ahead to another study of adult correctional facilities in the county.

The study of sheriff's department operations will be undertaken by a number of local companies, led by Gorski Reifsteck Architects. It has an estimated price tag of $144,000 to $185,000 and is expected to take four to six months.

It follows a study done last year by ILPP of Berkeley, Calif., which cost about $175,000, according to Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie.

"We're almost up to $400,000 that we've spent so far on this issue," Petrie said. "I'm not sure that the citizens of this community can handle more tax dollars being taken out of their pocketbooks. Somebody mentioned this is a $20 million project; some people have said it's a $22 million project. Nobody knows what it is. It's a large, expensive project."

But Rantoul Republican Stan James, who heads the board's facilities committee, downplayed the cost figures.

"I keep hearing this 20 million, 22 million. I've heard it from day one but no one's ever set a fee or a schedule. I don't know where that rumor started," he said. "All I know is we need to do something. We need to put something on the burner."

The new study will offer the county three "conceptual facility options" for correctional facilities. The county currently operates one jail in downtown Urbana — which numerous reports have characterized as outdated and inefficient — and a newer, larger satellite facility in east Urbana.

The board approved the contract on a 16-2 roll call, with the board's two black members, Lloyd Carter and Lorraine Cowart, voting against it.

Carter said he didn't understand why county jails had to have special facilities for the mentally ill.

"When I was coming up, your mental patients went to Kankakee" to a former state hospital, he said. "I don't understand why you have to entwine sick people with people who are locked up in jail. I can't understand that."

Although in the past the jail issue has prompted large turnouts of constituents opposed to any construction, only three members of the public spoke Thursday.

"I think that you are probably going to approve this contract this evening," said Dorothy Vura-Weis of Urbana, "though I think it would be better if it were first changed to require that at least one of the three options they present is a lower-cost option that assumes a smaller jail population, smaller in-custody mental health facility, more use of community-based services and the use of existing county buildings for functions that don't need to be in the jail facilities themselves."

Urbana Democrat Chris Alix said the county jail population is down to its lowest level in years. And he noted that authorities had made a number of changes in recent months, moving female inmates out of the downtown jail, beginning a re-entry program for recently released inmates, offering more intervention training to police officers and starting a new inmate classification program.

But he said that the county "still needs to address facilities issues."

Also Thursday, the board approved three labor contracts: one with the eight sheriff's department corrections sergeants represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, and two with employees at the county nursing home.

The sheriff's department sergeants will get raises of 2.25 percent each year during the three-year contract. Money for the raises will come out of the county's general fund.

The contract for the nursing home employees — about 180 general employees and about 25 nurses — calls for 2 percent raises for each of the next three years. The money for the raises will come from the nursing home fund.

Board members also gave County Engineer Jeff Blue permission to seek and accept bids for the purchase of bulk road salt for next winter. The county used all of its road salt last winter and wasn't included in the centralized bid received this summer through the state Department of Central Management Services.

The resolution approved Thursday allows Blue to purchase road salt without seeking competitive bids to treat the county's 200 miles of roads next winter. Eventually, the county board will have to approve the appropriation of motor fuel tax money for the purchase of the salt.

The best price quote the county so far has for rock salt is $108 a ton, Blue said. Last year, the county paid about $54 a ton.

In any case, the county almost certainly will use less road salt next winter, Blue said.

Eighteen of the board's 22 members were present. Absent were Democrats Ralph Langenheim, James Quisenberry and Giraldo Rosales, and Republican Jon Schroeder.