I want to take your readers back to Feb. 20, 2003. It was the evening of that day that the county board acted, without voter approval, to obligate our county for a $15 million debt to build a new jail that now sits two-thirds empty. With interest paid to bondholders for the debt, the total obligation will reach $29 million before the debt is finally paid.
Despite warnings from several citizens, the action was taken by nine of 15 board members. Those members had been sold a bill of goods by the chairman of the board and with help from a consulting engineering firm — Paric Corp. — convinced the nine board members that the jail would pay for itself by housing illegal immigrants for the federal government.
I remember the night vividly when a Paric representative told the board that the jail “would not cost the county a dime.” All the board had to do was approve the building of a 250-bed facility. For that advice and the subsequent management of the project, the county paid the consulting firm $764,000.
It is unbelievable to me that the county board of that day could have acted so foolishly. As a result of their action, a later board under the leadership of Ted Buck was forced to ask the voters to pass a Public Safety Sales Tax to pay for the annual debt service to retire the bonds. The voters approved. They did so to avoid placing the debt on property owners.
It is also incredulous to me that 10 years later, the present county board, under the leadership of Robert White, is now asking the voters to increase the Public Safety Sales Tax again to pay for courthouse renovations. And again the county board hired a new consulting engineering firm — M360 Corp. — to tell the board what is needed. Based on their calculations the cost for the renovation will be $7.62 million. With interest, the total cost could reach $12 million. In both cases the two consulting firms cannot be considered to be objective in this matter. With regard to the jail, Paric stood to gain financially if the board followed through on their recommendations. As we know, the board did follow through by approving Paric’s plan to build the jail. It remains to be seen whether the voters will approve the M360 plan to renovate the courthouse.