Future Lawrence County Law Enforcement Center
Preliminary plans for $15-18 million, 120-bed facility with room for future expansions

Structure will combine county law enforcement services under one roof

PRE-ELECTION NEWS RELEASE

When Lawrence County voters go to the polls Nov. 2, 2021, they’ll decide whether the time is right to construct a new jail/sheriff’s office, funded by a 3/8-cent sales tax. After construction bonds are paid off, 1/8-cent of the sales tax will be retired. It requires a simple majority to pass.

A town hall on the issue will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, in the second floor courtroom of the Historic Courthouse, located at 1 Courthouse Square, Mt Vernon, Mo.

INFORMATION SHEET

 

While an earlier sales tax helps fund law enforcement operations, this one is for construction. A portion will be retained for maintenance and operations.

Four issues prompted the county commission to approach voters now:

  • Taxpayers will be spending close to a half million dollars to house prisoners in other counties this year - money that could have gone toward jail savings or other public safety needs.

  • The county has obtained an 8.52-acre building site from the City of Mt. Vernon for a token dollar, so long as it shows progress toward the construction within three years and breaks ground within five. Otherwise the land goes back to the city.

  • The possibility of using a portion of federal American Recovery Act funds.

  • It would likely cost more to build in the future.

 

To date, the county has saved $873,000 for the jail construction; and the building site is valued at over $120,000.

Combined, those bring the county $1 million closer to a new jail/sheriff’s office. The sales tax is expected to generate roughly $1.2 million annually during the period it is at its full 3/8-cent level.

Jails are costly to build. Webster County recently completed a 116-bed jail, administrative space and courts facility for $18.6 million.

The amount of revenue available, combined with construction and operating costs, determine the size of the project. The county expects to be able to fund a 120-bed facility, which would more than double the capacity of the existing 52-bed jail. Total project cost could run $15-18 million.

It is working with a seasoned jail architectural firm, Elevatus Architects, to design a structure that can be more easily expanded as needs and finances allow. The building site should be able to accommodate two future 96-bed expansions.

The new construction should provide a safer, more secure environment; allow for staffing efficiencies in this difficult labor market; provide more pandemic-related safeguards; bring law enforcement services under one roof; and allow ample room for expansion.

It would be constructed within a new development area south of I-44 to be known as Mt. Vernon Commercial Park South.  Initial access would be from Missouri Drive off  the south outer road.

 

A 3/8-cent sales tax would add just over a third of a cent to the cost of a dollar candy bar. For $20 worth of supplies at a store, it would add seven and a half cents.

Voters may cast absentee ballots in person at the county clerk’s office at the Historic Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 30. Last day to vote absentee in person is Monday, Nov. 1. On election day Tuesday, Nov. 2, polls will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On Nov. 2, 2021, Lawrence County voters approved a 3/8-cent sales tax to construct and operate a new sheriff's office & detention center. It is tentatively named the "Lawrence County Law Enforcement Center." Once construction bonds are paid off, 1/8-cent of the tax will drop off. The rest will continue for maintenance and operations.

This is the next step in long-term efforts to attack

the skyrocketing costs of crime in Lawrence County.

Step 1 – Achieved!

 

STOPPING THE SPIRAL.

When the cost of crime outpaced funding and decimated county finances, Lawrence countians came through with the half-cent Law Enforcement Sales Tax in 2017. This enabled the county to properly fund sheriff’s office operations; invest in additional law enforcement personnel; retire worn out patrol vehicles and institute a regular rotation of new vehicles into the fleet; replenish reserves that had been emptied to cover skyrocketing public safety costs; and begin saving for a larger jail to address the costly fees for boarding prisoners in other counties.

At the same time, the county increased use of electronic monitoring to stem the growing  jail numbers and added staff in the prosecutor’s office to help move cases through the system.

Step 2 – Started

RETURNING THE COUNTY TO FINANCIAL STABILITY
AND SAVING FOR NEW CONSTRUCTION.

Once a modest three-month operating reserve was achieved and funds were repaid, the county began saving in earnest for a larger jail. To date, it has saved  $873,000. At the same time, however, housing prisoners in other counties will likely cost county taxpayers a half million dollars this year that could have gone to jail savings or other public safety needs.

Step 3 – Achieved!

SECURING A SITE FOR A LARGER JAIL/SHERIFF’S OFFICE.

Thanks to the City of Mt. Vernon, the county now has a contract on an 8.52-acre tract of land southwest of the Highway 39/I-44 interchange. Cost:  $1. The county must begin construction within 5 years or the land reverts back to the city. Value of the land is over $120,000. That, combined with savings, brings the county $1 million closer to the new jail/sheriff’s office facility.

This site achieves another goal. It allows ample room for expansion.

Step 4 – Set in motion

FINANCING CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION.

The county had hoped to save for a few years before tackling the construction phase. However, the current economic climate, increasing construction costs and out-of-county inmate housing costs have prompted it to ask Lawrence County voters if they would like to proceed now.

To do that will require a 3/8-cent sales tax.  At its full level, that would bring in an estimated $1.2 million annually. That, combined with savings and the potential for a portion of the county’s federal American Rescue Plan funding, will determine the size facility that can be built. The county hopes to more than double the size of the existing jail while combining law enforcement offices under one roof to increase efficiency.

 

How big will the proposed jail/sheriff’s facility be and how much will it cost?

 

The amount of revenue available, combined with construction costs and anticipated operating costs, will determine this. The county expects those to allow for construction of a 120-bed facility  – more than double the capacity of the existing 52-bed jail. It would also include offices for sheriff, jail, detective and road deputy personnel, as well as support staff, combining those operations under one roof for efficiency of operation. Total project cost is estimated at $15-18 million.

The county is working closely with architects now to design a facility that:

  • enables the county to retire the existing inefficient, undersized and inadequately built 1984 jail;

  • allows it to house as many inmates as possible;

  • improves safety and security;

  • improves staffing efficiencies;

  • and allows for expansion.

 

The site and design should be able to accommodate two 96-bed expansions.

What will this cost me?

A 3/8-cent sales tax would add just over a third of a cent to the cost of a dollar candy bar. For $20 worth of supplies at a store, it would add seven and a half cents.

What the new facility will do – and what it won’t do.

 

While the county expects funding to more than double the cell space, it won’t resolve all the issues related to boarding prisoners in other counties. A big part of this is the corrections requirements related to classification of prisoners and the trend toward more female prisoners, more prisoners being held for violent crimes, and the length of time they are held as their cases work their way through the court system.  A single crime can impact our numbers, as in a current murder case involving numerous defendants who must be separated.

If projections of potential bed space needs in 20 years prove accurate, Lawrence County will need to expand in the future. But the design will make those expansions easier and more affordable – something the existing jail does not allow. The site and design should allow two 96-bed expansions in the decades to come.

The new facility should also:

  • provide a safer, more secure environment for staff and inmates alike;

  • be designed for efficient use of staff, which is crucial in this difficult labor market;

  • provide more pandemic-related safeguards;

  • bring law enforcement services under one roof rather than spread among three buildings, allowing for other efficiencies; and

  • provide ample room for expansion.