Ogle Co. INS question

What a difference a day makes. Following a second informational meeting held for residents of Ogle County hosted by the Preserve Oregon Committee regarding the potential construction of an INS Detention Center in Oregon, Ogle County Sheriff Melvin Messer and Chairman Jerry Daws fired off letters to area papers pleading their case for the construction to go forward.

Defending criticism of his ability to work within a budget, he stated that his budget for fiscal year 2001 was $3,586,085 and that boarding out-of-county prisoners and the collection of fees generated $1,741,629 in revenue. He went on to point out that County Board Member Dick Meadows indicated it wasn’t the sheriff’s fault if he is over budget, it was the board’s fault. He quoted one board member, stating that “the sheriff hasn’t overspent his budget, that the sheriff was not properly funded.” (Oregon Republican Reporter).

Chairman Jerry Daws, in his letter, addressed the criticism that the proposal has taken place behind closed doors, explaining

that in the last year there had been only six

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meetings that he or other county board members had attended, that no votes were taken. And that none of those meetings in his mind were official meetings of the county board or its committees.

The Preserve Oregon Committee, a citizens’ group formed in opposition to the construction of the 640-bed INS Detention Center/County Jail has been vocal in its criticism of the sheriff’s budget increasing each year and being exceeded each year to the tune of $977,123.98 for the Sheriff’s Department and $288,392.84 for his maintenance and grounds budget in the past four and a half years. If the INS Detention Center is located in Oregon, Messer will get a brand-new county jail and would be in charge of the facility and its budget.

The letters from Messer and Daws appeared in the Thursday, October 10 edition of the Oregon Republican Reporter. The same day, the Preserve Oregon Committee requested a five-year line-by-line budget report from the Ogle County Clerk’s Office. At approximately 11 a.m., Chairman Jerry Daws and Sheriff Melvin Messer sent out a press release stating that “there is not sufficient interest to proceed with the proposed detention center project” and that they would recommend to the Ogle County Board on the following Tuesday that the center not be built.

The next morning, Daws stated that the INS was “very upset we have taken the steps to stop the project. I am putting the INS speakers on the agenda today, and if the information they present moves the board to make a decision to proceed, I’d be open to it.”

The following Tuesday, the Ogle County Board was standing room only with overflow into the hall and foyer of the second floor of the courthouse with citizens and media in attendance. INS Assistant Director Deborah Achim stated that she was “very excited about entering into this agreement.” (Oregon Republican Reporter) She went on to say that she could not speak to specific financial issues other than that INS would pay $9.1 million toward construction costs of the facility.

Greg Beitel, recently promoted to captain by Sheriff Messer, stated, “This is still a work in progress. We’re looking into getting all the facts and figures together.”

Outside the board room, Sheriff Mel Messer told the Oregon Republican Reporter, “I made this statement—if the people don’t want it, I’m not going to build it, and that’s the recommendation I’m going to make (to the county board).”

During the 4-1/2 hour meeting, the sheriff stood in the outer hallway. At the four-hour mark, board member Doug Zuehl of Rochelle made a motion to reject the detention center and terminate any agreements with INS. The motion was seconded and slated to be voted on at the next meeting. The meeting was adjourned, TV cameras were packed up, and people filed out of the cramped board room. Chairman Jerry Daws and Sheriff Melvin Messer never made their recommendation to the county board.

Within days, County Board Member Lyle Hopkins picked up the baton to carry on with the project by personally inviting the HDR Architects firm of Chicago, Susan Achim of INS, and a representative from Harris Bank of Chicago to a meeting to sell the project to the public on Wednesday, October 30th. This is a baton that was previously held by Chairman Jerry Daws, Captain Greg Beitel and County Board Member Dick Meadows, who is up for re-election.

HDR Architects Inc. of Chicago confirmed that they will receive between 7 and 9 percent commission from the project. The representative from Harris Bank confirmed that the bank will receive 1-2 percent in organizational fees. The INS will have 200-300 guaranteed bedspaces for INS detainees from three different states housed in one centralized location, while paying $9.1 million of a building with a $35 to $40 million price tag.

Proponents of the facility have argued that the per diem paid for each prisoner will pay back the low-interest loans required to fund the remainder of the project. Preserve Oregon members have pointed out that the per diem is designed only to pay the expenses of the prisoner. After operating costs, costs of housing the prisoners, payroll, training, etc., there is no room for profit, potentially leaving the taxpayers holding the financial responsibility of keeping the facility open.

The Ogle County Board is expected to vote on the project on November 19.

The Preserve Oregon Committee has scheduled a third meeting to be held at the Oregon Coliseum on November 6 at 7 p.m. The agenda will include a report on the October 30 meeting called by County Board Member Lyle Hopkins, the proposed judicial center, the Sheriff’s Department budget, and the county board’s and Oregon City Council’s positions on both centers.

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