A new jail to replace Sarpy County’s overcrowded facility could be built just a short walk from the current correctional center, conceptual plans show.
Early designs by DLR Group show a three-story jail estimated to cost $70 million that would be on the current county government campus near Washington Street and Highway 370 in Papillion. Two county-owned annex buildings on the east end of the campus would need to be demolished to make way for the facility.
Right now, that’s all just a possibility. The Sarpy County Board hasn’t voted on the idea and none of the plans are final. County Board members and other officials discussed the concept — and how the county might foot the bill — at a planning retreat Tuesday at Hillcrest Country Estates in Papillion.
The concept came to light a week after the board voted in favor of a $1 million purchase agreement to buy a 6.6-acre plot of land near 25th Street and Highway 370 to build a mental health crisis center.
County leaders say a lack of mental health services has forced the current jail to act as a mental health center for people who shouldn’t be incarcerated.
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The current 148-bed jail was built in 1989. At the time, the facility was projected to adequately serve the county until 2020, but it reached capacity in the mid-1990s. The county now pays to house inmates at other facilities across the state.
As of Tuesday, the current jail held about 190 inmates, and more were being housed at other facilities. The new jail would have 430 beds.
The prospect of two expensive county initiatives — the $70 million jail and the mental health facility, which is forecast to cost up to $14 million — spurred discussion about the possibility of implementing a countywide sales tax, a sales tax in the county outside city limits, a property tax increase or a cap on using tax-supported funds.
A combination of those measures, or none at all, also is possible.
Board Chairman Don Kelly suggested letting voters decide whether to build a new jail with a bond issue.
“I think if we educate the public, and we lay out the cost, and we explain to them why (a new jail is) needed, people will make the right decision,” Kelly said during the session.
Voters in 2002 rejected a $15.5 million bond issue to add 160 beds to the existing jail. Sarpy County officials took a step toward finding a site for a new jail in 2018.
Complicating the county’s funding equation is Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed constitutional amendment to limit local school districts and other property taxing bodies to increasing property tax revenue by no more than 3 percent a year.
Kelly said Ricketts’ proposal would hurt fast-growing counties like Sarpy that rely on property tax revenue to continue growing.
County Administrator Dan Hoins said the loss of revenue could lead to a hiring freeze or loss of personnel, as well as a possible cut to county services. And the county would have less revenue to build facilities like a new jail and mental health facility.
If the new jail as presented Tuesday is built, it’s unclear what would happen with the current jail building. One possibility presented was to renovate the building to be used as county office space.
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