URBANA — Champaign County Board members voted 16-6 Tuesday night to issue a request for proposals to hire a consultant to study the county's correctional needs and to begin preliminary planning for a jail.
Four Democrats — Lloyd Carter, Lorraine Cowart, Pattsi Petrie and Giraldo Rosales — joined with Republicans Gary Maxwell and Steve O'Connor in opposing the move.
The decision could be a significant step toward either remodeling the 31-year-old downtown Urbana jail or vacating it and adding to a satellite jail in east Urbana.
"We need to get somebody in here to help us figure out what our problems are and what our options are," said Urbana Democrat Christopher Alix.
"You know that old saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it?'" said Mahomet Republican Stephanie Holderfield. "Well, it's broken and we need to fix it, and where are we going to get a deeper understanding if we don't undertake a study?"
The decision was not without its critics.
Urbana Democrat Carol Ammons said the board should hold a "public debate" on the entire jail issue before focusing on jail construction.
"What is the problem downtown and what would it cost to fix it?" she asked. "I think we are moving well beyond what we should."
County Administrator Deb Busey said she had no estimate for the cost of the study.
About a dozen members of the public addressed the board, most of them asking board members to focus on alternatives to incarceration instead of building correctional facilities.
Several noted that all 10 members of the jail-space-improvement-project planning team are white, and that no members of the public were invited to serve.
"You have no problem housing more black folks, and spending millions and millions of dollars, and manipulating the taxpayers and leaving low amounts of bills on the juvenile detention center ... so you can continue to roll over the quarter-cent sales tax so that you can use it for job creation for a select few," said Urbana resident Aaron Ammons. "You give 5 percent, a measly $220,000 a year maybe, to social-justice programs as if that's really going to address anything."
He said that voters "want to know how you can push something forward when you don't even have a price tag on how much it would cost to fix" the downtown jail.
Board leaders have stressed that they want the jail planning team to determine what kind of a facility is needed before addressing costs or finances.
"The taxpayers are not happy about this, not happy about you playing games with the money, using it for your benefit and still shuffling our children off to be incarcerated," said Ammons, whose wife is on the board. "And don't buy for a minute, people who are listening, that they are worried about the inmates over there. They're worried about the people who work over there. They want to work in a nicer facility so they can make everything more convenient but they could care less about the people who are inmates over there."
All but two sitting board members — Republicans Steve Moser and Ron Bensyl — were present for the meeting.