URBANA — Champaign County Board Democrats muscled through a motion to appoint a Berkeley, Calif., firm to provide consulting services for a county jail needs assessment.
The motion was opposed by all 12 Republicans on the board, but supported by all 15 Democrats.
The Democrats endorsed hiring the Institute for Law and Public Policy Planning of Berkeley to do an assessment of jail needs, with a particular look at the future of the 32-year-old downtown Urbana jail.
Republicans, at their caucus session before the board meeting, said they preferred hiring a Midwestern firm to do the work. One of the other firms bidding for the job was Kimme & Associates of Champaign.
"I have a problem with sending that much money outside of this area," said Sadorus Republican Jon Schroeder.
But Democrats said the institute had a good reputation and would do a thorough review of the jail needs, including alternatives to incarceration.
"Any valid assessment of facilities is going to involve not just looking at bricks and mortar," said Urbana Democrat Tom Betz. "It's going to look at configuration. It's going to look at usage. It's going to look at who goes into the facilities and for what length of time, and how many people are repeat offenders, how many people are first offenders, the nature of the offense."
Also Thursday, board members approved, 26-1, rezoning a 10-acre tract about 2 miles north of Champaign for an 11,300-square-foot event retreat center for the LA Gourmet Catering firm. Only Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie voted against the proposal.
The land currently is zoned for agricultural use.
The plan commission in Hensley Township, in which the event center would be located, opposed the rezoning, citing concerns over drainage, traffic safety and preservation of prime farmland. But the county zoning board of appeals voted for the rezoning, and several township residents appeared at public meetings in recent weeks to endorse the zoning change.
The owners of the catering firm, Lauren and Anne Murray, have said that they plan to spend $2 million developing the property with 8,256 square feet of meeting space, plus parking, gardens and ponds.
The board also formally approved the creation of a Champaign County Veterans Assistance Commission, which would provide services and benefits to qualified indigent veterans in the county. The commission would have a budget of about $122,550, with about $80,000 set aside for financial assistance for veterans. Champaign County is one of the last counties in the state to authorize creation of a veterans assistance commission.
The board, in a 19-7 vote, approved spending up to $126,000 to remodel its meeting space at the Brookens Administrative Center. The renovation would include new seats and desks, plus updated audio and video systems. Four Republicans and three Democrats voted against the measure, which needed 18 votes to pass.
A motion to transfer $215,000 from various sheriff's department line items to purchase new squad cars for the department was approved. Sheriff Dan Walsh said Thursday he hopes to purchase as many as nine cars with the money. Several of the vehicles have as many as 120,000 miles.
All 27 board members were present for the meeting.