The adoption of an updated six-year strategic plan for county government is on the Champaign County Board’s agenda for Thursday night. Among its 21 specified goals: addressing the long-deferred facility needs of the county sheriff’s office.
One of the items on the Champaign County Board’s agenda Thursday night is the adoption of a resolution to approve an updated strategic plan for county government. Nearly all of the 21 priorities listed are reasonable and noncontroversial — improve the county’s financial position, support economic development for disadvantaged communities, contain urban sprawl and encourage farmland preservation — but one stands out.
Addressing the facility and operational needs of the county sheriff’s office, an issue that has vexed the county board and the sheriff’s office for at least 10 years, is one of the initiatives listed. The items are not prioritized, but if they were, this one should be near the top.
Operating a system with two jails about a mile apart has cost the county untold sums in operational inefficiencies for years. The older, downtown jail is especially wasteful, even unsafe, and should be closed as soon as possible. The jail facilities should be consolidated into a safe, comprehensive and modern unit near the county complex in east Urbana, but the county board has lacked the political will and unity to address the issue.
Perhaps under the new strategic plan and the relatively new county executive, Darlene Kloeppel, the job will get done.
But one of the other messages in the strategic plan is that the county government has limited control over the majority of its revenue sources. The plan doesn’t identify or even mention where the money would come from to upgrade the jail, but one source is obvious: the $45 billion capital bill recently approved by the Legislature.
Under the capital bill, individual lawmakers could earmark various sums toward projects in their district. The county government should reach out to state legislators who represent Champaign County and ask for a portion of that money to help fund one of the area’s greatest needs: an efficient county jail that could offer comprehensive services and be safe for staff and inmates alike.