Note: Election stories will be added to Kansas Agland while hutchnews.com is temporarily unavailable. Thank you for your patience. By Ken Stephens The Hutchinson News firstname.lastname@example.org Reno County voters drew the curtain on the long-simmering debate over the county jail on Tuesday, endorsing a half-cent increase in the county sales tax to pay for a new 250-bed jail to be built on the northeast corner of Severance and Blanchard. Final unofficial results showed that 5,583 voters supported the plan while 1,630 opposed it. That was a margin of 77.4 percent to 22.6 percent. "It makes me feel really good that the public is finally supporting us as much as they are and trusting us on what we say we need," said Sheriff Randy Henderson, who monitored the results at home, offering spare ribs to guests, reporters and photographers who showed up. "I think that opening the jail to the public (for tours) was a really positive move when we let people see for themselves what we face every day." Henderson noted that in 2006, Reno County voters rejected another proposal for a new jail by a margin of 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent. That plan, he believed was flawed because it proposed to use a quarter-cent sales tax increase to build a 208-bed jail just north of the courthouse for $20.72 million but did not speak to what would happen to the existing jail or its annex. The County Commission at the time indicated that those would be renovated later using different financing, most likely a property tax increase. The 2013 plan, on the other hand, includes building a new 250-bed jail at Blanchard and Severance, a new secure entrance to the courthouse and Law Enforcement Center, renovating the jail annex into new offices for the county clerk, treasurer, register of deeds and appraiser and renovating the main jail for a larger evidence storage area and additional law enforcement offices. The total cost of $28.9 million will be totally repaid by revenue from a half-percent increase in the sales tax revenue over eight to 10 years. "This time we have a good plan," said Henderson, an advocate for a new jail for much of the past 11 years. "The County Commission gave it a lot of support. It's a good plan for the annex and the old jail and a good plan for the new jail, and that's what the public needed to support it." He added that in 2006 the county had not yet been forced to pay other counties to house Reno County prisoners the jail was too small to hold. Today housing prisoners in other counties costs Reno County about $400,000 a year, an expense that will go away when the new jail is built. County Administrator Gary Meagher, who came to the election headquarters in the basement of the courthouse to learn the early results, was smiling broadly after learning that the jail proposition had a 79 percent to 21 percent lead after the absentee ballots and other votes cast before Election Day were counted shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. "That's a big margin, bigger than I expected," Meagher said. The margin changed little as county election officials updated the results several times during the evening. County Commission Chairman Dan Deming also said the margin of victory was "way bigger than I expected." He attributed the margin to the work of a blue ribbon jail committee that developed a plan that not only solved the jail's problems but also courthouse security issues. Deming also thanked the media for in-depth coverage of the issues and Russ Johnson of ACS Marketing for printing a brochure explaining the issues on faith that jail supporters would raise enough private donations to cover the costs of mailing the brochure to more than 17,000 Reno County homes. County officials, led by Henderson, have maintained that the jail, built in 1971, and annex, opened in a converted auto body repair shop in 1998, are too small, poorly designed and don't meet safety and other standards of the American Correctional Association. The main jail and the annex have a rated capacity of 162 inmates. However, the realistic capacity, given the need to segregate prisoners according to gender and security risk, is 137. Last year, the average daily population in the jail was 152 inmates, and the daily average exceed 170 in September and October. In four months there was at least one day when there were 181 or more prisoners in the custody of the sheriff. That meant that 30 to 40 prisoners had to be housed in other county jails on a regular basis. At a cost of $35 a day per inmate, the county budgeted $400,000 for paying other county's to jail Reno County prisoners. Lee Spence, president of Underground Vaults and Storage, served as chairman of the jail committee, which spent nearly two years studying the issues and developing the proposal approved by voters on Tuesday. "I think it was worth it," Spence said. "We learned a lot of things. It was well worth the time. The education was very satisfying, and I'm gratified that the citizens of Reno County will support the sales tax bonds." Watching the construction of the new jail over the next couple of years "will be the fun part," 'Spence said. The new jail will have 200 beds in the main cell block, plus 50 more at the other end of the jail complex for minimum security prisoners who could be released during the day to go to work. It also will have a larger medical area, including two negative pressure isolation cells to prevent the spread of airborne diseases. It also will have two classrooms where prisoners could attend church services, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, drug treatment classes and other classes to teach them basic skills they would need when released, such as how to get a driver's license and apply for a job. The new jail is designed so that guards can have a direct line of sight into cells surrounding a secure control station, from which the officers can electronically lock and unlock doors. A maintenance corridor along the outer perimeter of the cellblock will allow maintenance workers to repair plumbing and other systems without actually having to enter the cells. The design also allows for the easy addition of another 40-bed cell block when it is needed in the future. Had the jail proposition not been approved by voters, Deming said this week, the County Commission almost certainly would have had to increase property taxes just to bring the existing jail up to code and to improve courthouse security. "I'm relieved that we're finally going to get the problems solved and that the people listened to their options on what would happen with a sales tax versus a property tax and voted for what was in their best interests."