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Making the case for a new law enforcement center

October 2, 2018

PRINCETON – County officials are renewing their pitch for voters to support a half-percent sales tax increase to pay for a new jail.

The $12.3 million, 21,000-square-foot Bureau County Law Enforcement Center would transform the former Bureau County Republican building at 800 Ace Road, which the county bought earlier this year for $725,000, into space for the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices, the 9-1-1 Call Center and an 80-bed jail, along with shared support spaces.

Henry Pittner with BKV Group of Chicago, the architectural firm hired by the county, made the county’s case Saturday at a community forum at Princeton Public Library, sponsored by citizens group Voices from the Prairie.

The county is asking voters to change their minds about a half-percent sales tax increase that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot; they rejected a similar question by a mere 6 votes, 3,528 to 3,522, in the March 20 primary.

Among Pittner’s points:

• The current 45-year-old jail has an obsolete, unsafe design that does not comply with several codes. Renovating it would cost more than new construction, and would provide fewer beds.

• The cost to house inmates in LaSalle County when the Bureau County Jail is over capacity is $11,000 per inmate per year, plus transportation to and from court. About eight inmates a day now are housed elsewhere.

“The current facility now is 36 (beds), but we’re down to 30,” Sheriff Jim Reed said. “We’ve lost beds in the jail because of classification issues we’ve had. Not only that, but we don’t have the square footage that’s required by law for each inmate. That being said, we outgrew this jail 20 years ago.”

This plan provides room for growth, Pittner added.

“One of the things that we’ve talked about, that the county board is looking toward, is build what you need for today, … but then plan for the future,” he said. “In the site plan, there are ways to add onto this building, to add additional capacity someday if we need it.”

• If approved, Bureau County’s sales tax rate would rise to 7.25 percent, the same as neighboring Whiteside and Henry counties, lower than Lee County (7.75 percent), and higher than LaSalle County (6.5 percent) and Putnam and Marshall counties (6.25 percent). Many items would not be taxed: vehicles, farm vehicles, groceries, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, medical devices and medical materials.

“The really good news is, with I-80, you’ve got a lot of people like me that travel through town, and every time I’m here, I’m buying gas,” Pittner said. “People like me that are driving through all the time, I’m paying for it, which helps a little bit.”

• There is not enough money available in the county’s reserves to pay for a new jail, so if the county took out a loan (issued general obligation bonds) to pay for one, it would need a new revenue source to pay back the bonds back. The new public safety sales tax will generate about $900,000 a year, which would be enough to cover the debt.

The forum, which was attended by about 30 people, will be posted on YouTube.

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