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Ellis County jail proposal getting a second look

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Rather than hiring a jail consultant, Ellis County will be going back to the architect who drew up plans for several scenarios aimed at handling an increasing inmate population.

Both remaining members of the county's space needs committee pushed back Wednesday, telling Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund and Commission Chairman Swede Holmgren there's no need to repeat what's already been done.

Rather than hire a consultant, committee member Tom Wasinger said Sund and the commission should take a look at what Treanor Architects already has prepared, and was presented to the commission more than a year ago.

The committee's other member, Errol Wuertz, agreed.

"So where's the report?" Sund asked. "There's got to be a report."

"So call them and ask them," Wasinger said.

"Everything I've heard is that jail populations have leveled off," Sund said. "We're in a bit of a bubble here."

Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin said the jail's running as many as 49 people, some of them being housed in either Stockton or Dodge City.

The numbers are increasing.

"I'm getting it from the courts that if we had more room, they'd send people to jail," Harbin said.

As it is, most are being sentenced to community corrections -- before and after they go to trial.

While both Wasinger and Wuertz rifled through a sheaf of papers collected during the three years they've served on the committee and looked at the jail issue, they said the architects looked at what was wanted -- and needed -- to come up with the set of proposals.

Those three proposals, all of which involve expanding the jail in its current location, range in price from slightly less than $1 million up to nearly $4.3 million.

Housing capacity would range from adding space for 16 inmates -- up from the 30 that can be housed now -- up to 62 inmates.

A new facility, housing 62 inmates, would cost nearly $6 million.

"We've been at this for three years now," Wasinger said. "Well, some of us. There's only about three of us left."

"I would like to get my hands on this earlier study," Holmgren said.

"So would I," Sund said. "This is the first time I've heard of this."

"I hate to say this, but before we decide to do anything, we need to read that report," Holmgren said. "I think the county commission needs to reread that report."

Ellis County Undersheriff Bruce Hertel said the jail issue is more than just a matter of inmate numbers.

"There's a huge safety issue," he said.

"It is a public safety issue now," Holmgren agreed, asking how long the issue of jail expansion has been on the table.

"Since 2000," Wasinger said.

"We need to get off center on this," Holmgren said.

"We need to get prepared for some kind of campaign," Sund said of how to approach the public to pay for the improvements, as well as new space for ambulance and fire. "We need some kind of data here on that."

"I think you're getting closer," Holmgren said to Harbin. "We need to have this to a vote by next spring."