Guest Column: Concerns over proposed Ogle County jail

Guest Column: Concerns over proposed Ogle County jail

By Jerry Daws

There have been numerous concerns over the proposed location of a federal detention facility in Ogle County and the process that has been used to research the project.

As a result, some very good discussion has taken place. Unfortunately, some misinformation has been dispersed, as well. I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some of the misconceptions regarding what has taken place so far.

There has been some criticism that much of the work on this proposal has taken place behind closed doors. In fact, in the last year, there have been just six meetings that I or any other county board member attended with regard to this project: Each meeting was informational, only; at no time were any votes taken. None of these meetings was, in my view, an official meeting of the county board or one of its committees. (Often, there was just one or two county board members present.)

Regardless, I see now that we should have been more open and should have invited public participation earlier. For that, I accept full responsibility.

As to the suggestion that agreements have been reached, let me briefly explain. A non-binding agreement has been signed by the U.S. Marshal’s Office. Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ogle County Sheriff Mel Messer and myself. That non-binding agreement states that the federal government will give Ogle County $9.1 million, and a yet-to-be-determined per diem IF the Ogle County Board agrees to build the facility. This document is merely an agreement to consider the project. It clearly states that either side may terminate the agreement at any time and for any reason.

Numerous banks have expressed interest in financing the project, should it become a reality. One of the banks requested an independent financial analysis. An auditing firm agreed to conduct the study for $140,000. It was determined that the proposal was too costly—therefore, county funding was not requested.

Various architects for the proposed project were considered. HDR Architectural Firm began supplying drawings for the proposed facility. HDR has not submitted bills nor been paid for drawings, and no contract has been signed.

To date, the only expenditures have been a $15,000 option to purchase land south of Oregon, should the project become a reality. The vote to take an option on the land was approved overwhelmingly by the Ogle County Board.

No one from the county board or from the Sheriff’s Department has committed the taxpayers of Ogle County to anything other than the land option. Without a full vote by the county board to proceed, this project remains a mere proposal.

While I believe this project is in the best interests of the taxpayers in the long run, I remain open to the varying opinions being expressed in the community. I am also open to considering alternative locations should the Oregon site be determined unsuitable.

I am in the process of forming an INS Research Committee comprised of county board members and private citizens to further explore this proposal. I will ask three things of this committee: Determine if the INS facility would financially benefit the taxpayers of Ogle County; determine if the current proposed site is the best location; make written recommendations to the full board.

I will not argue that this project has been handled perfectly. I also will not argue that we have all the information we need. Indeed, we do not—I am hoping the Research Committee will help get answers to some important questions.

I will say this: I believe the people of Ogle County can come to a consensus on this issue. As your county board chairman, I remain open to your views.

Jerry Daws is the chairman of the Ogle County Board.

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