WABASH COUNTY — After a series of recent actions by the Wabash County Board of Commissioners and the Wabash County Council, a new Wabash County Jail and Sheriff’s Office is finally taking shape.

At Monday’s Wabash County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board unanimously approved an ordinance and resolution establishing a fund to receive bond note proceeds and lease financing, respectively.

The process has long been in the works, as the two boards held a joint public meeting on the project at the Heartland REMC Community Room in February to address taxpayers and answer their concerns.

Sheriff Ryan Baker said the current facility at 79 W. Main St. was built in 1979 rated for 60 beds. That number was later moved to 72, where it sits today.

Baker said in 2016, there were around 120 inmates on the average daily population, with that number spiking to around 176 inmates per day in 2019.

Baker said starting in 2012, Wabash County started housing inmates at taxpayer expense in the Miami, Elkhart and Tipton County jails, and occasionally Whitley or Noble county jails, depending on needs.

Baker said they currently have 31 people enrolled in treatment court, 98 at community corrections, 194 at pretrial release and 881 on probation.

Baker said they currently don’t have the space to conduct any programs inside the jail itself.

Baker said they drive thousands of miles per month just transferring inmates from one jail to another.

The new facility will be located at 1335 Manchester Ave.

Pyramid Consulting President Terry Burnworth, who has been hired as the owner’s representative, said they were looking at a 90,000 square feet facility, which would house around 300 inmates.

Burnworth said a 20-acre parcel would be carved out for the new facility and also for future expansion.

Wabash County Council Chairman and District 4 councilmember Kyle Bowman said the projected cost for 2021 would be $1.2 million to house inmates out of the county.

Bowman said the state had recently changed the reimbursement method so that some low-level felons remain in the county.

Bowman said that while the state reimburses the county for the cost of housing these inmates locally, the state has been running behind on its reimbursements.

Bowman said the state recently changed the formula to a one-time distribution based on the preceding year’s number of housed inmates.

Bowman said the state created a correctional facility fund that is income tax-driven.

Bowman said these credits, sometimes called Property Tax Reform Committee (PTRC) credits, have been in existence for quite a few years and remove some of the income tax burdens.

At the time, Bowman said they were looking at lowering these credits from .5 to .4.

Bowman said these credits are assessed at different values and amounts and are based on property types, with most of them going to homestead homeowners.

At Monday’s Wabash County Board of Commissioners meeting, Krohn and Associates partner Jim Treat said a $33 million bond sizing was the goal, with an annual payment of $2.3 million to $2.4 million expected.

“You’ve got the sufficient revenues to cover those payments,” said Treat.

Treat said they were widening the requested amount of the bonds to $40 million “to account for any kind of changes before the final costs are in.”

“By adopting it at this level it gives you the flexibility to adopt a higher bond amount,” said Treat. “If your interest rates are around 3 percent, your payment is still going to be at that $3 million level. I would expect it to be around $600,000 less per year, so that’s why we try to plan for all those things.”

Baker said they had to “build for the future.”

“If we build a jail with the same number of inmates we have now, it’s going to be a major problem for the taxpayers of Wabash County when you add on in a few years or we pay inmates to be housed out of the county,” said Baker. “At 80 percent capacity, the jail is technically full.”

Later that same evening, at the Wabash County Council Steve Downs said the county would be transferring the real estate to the newly-established building corporation, which they will then lease back to the county.

Downs said similar arrangements are “used routinely now” in the state for jails, schools and other large projects.

At both meetings, the resolutions and ordinances were passed unanimously, with the rules suspended so that they could be passed on second reading at the same meeting.

According to the ordinance, Wabash County Auditor Marcie Shepherd has recommended the creation of a local fund that will exclusively receive proceeds from the issuance of the Local Income Tax Revenue Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN), Series 2021.

The ordinance establishes a separate and distinct fund called the Jail Project BAN Fund.

The Wabash County Treasurer will serve as the custodian and the Wabash County Auditor will serve as the auditing agent for the fund and will oversee the administration of the fund.

According to the resolution, a petition was signed by at least 50 taxpayers of Wabash County and was submitted to the commissioners. The petitioners are asking for the acquisition, construction and equipping by a nonprofit building corporation of a new sheriff’s office and jail facility.

The facility will be approximately 90,000 square feet and will be designed to hold 300 men and women in separate areas.

The county has imposed a local income tax (LIT) which includes amount needed for the correctional facilities.

The cost of the project is not projected to exceed $40 million without the further authorization of the board.
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