Projected jail construction cost: $156,000,000

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Contracts approved for two revoked corporations, one ‘not in good standing,’ and three one-bid contracts

County Board expected to award $99,107,784 in contracts

Winnebago County’s new 1,212-bed jail barely has the foundation footings in the ground and is already on track to easily surpass 2002 estimates that put the cost of construction at $130 million. Although county officials rejected four categories of bids, The Rock River Times estimates cost of constructing the jail and court facility at $156 million or more.

Included in $99,107,784 worth of contracts approved April 6 by the Winnebago County Public Safety and Finance committees are a firing range for $1,088,405 and fourth floor expansion at $3,707,390. Combined with $18,046,902 in contracts previously awarded for planning and construction, the total cost to date is $117,154,686.

Construction of the jail, which is being funded by a 16 percent hike in the county sales tax, is believed to be the largest and most expensive single construction project undertaken in the county’s history.

Winnebago County’s sales tax jumped 16 percent from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent in July 2003, and is annually collecting more than $2 million than the expected $23.1 million in revenue.

The largest contract will likely be awarded April 14 by the full County Board to Sjostrom and Sons Inc., for work on the concrete structure. Sjostrom and Sons bid $20,858,130 for the job, and had no competition for the project. In total, Sjostrom and Sons is on track to receive $29,468,444 in jail contracts—at least twice the amount of any other vendor.

During spring 2003, Sjostrom and Sons lost a bitter struggle for the jail’s $6.5 million construction management position. The company, along with two other teams, lost the job to the business alliance of SRB, which consists of Bovis Lend Lease Inc., of Chicago and local firms Scandroli Construction Co., and Ringland-Johnson Construction Co.

Joel Sjostrom, president of Sjostrom and Sons, did not respond to a message for comment about whether the one-bid contract was related to the loss of the construction management job to SRB.

Other one-bid contracts included $9,245,000 to Mechanical Inc., of Freeport for plumbing, and $2,481,117 to Nelson Fire Protection of Rockford.

The committees also approved contracts to two out-of-state companies that had their corporation status revoked several years ago by the Illinois Secretary of State. Another company, Norment Security Group, Inc. of Alabama, is “not in good standing” with Illinois. Inc., of Indiana, which was approved for $6,497,000 for electronic security, had its corporation status revoked in 2003. Stafford-Smith of Michigan, which may receive $1,271,299 for food and laundry facilities, had their status revoked in 1987.

Penelope Campbell, assistant press secretary for the Illinois Secretary of State, said and Stafford-Smith had their corporation status revoked for not filing required documents. Norment Security Group is not in good standing because they failed to submit the required annual report.

Sally Claassen, purchasing and risk management director for Winnebago County, did not return an April 12 message for comment about the companies that are not in good standing with the state. Even though the county’s average daily jail population has dropped from 511 inmates in 2000 to 454 prisoners in March, the county is pushing forward with construction of the 1,212-bed facility. If completed in early 2007, county officials will have a potential to house approximately 1,700 inmates.

County and state officials such as Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R), Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli (R), Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers (D), Winnebago County Board member John Sweeney (R-14) and State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) said construction of the jail is an economic boon for the region.

Sheriff Meyers announced in March that Winnebago County has been approved for a $4,759,173 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for expansion of the fourth floor of the new jail, which increased the capacity from 988 to 1,212 beds. The federal grant money was administered by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

However, as of April 12, the county had not received the grant money.

Meyers added the grant money will allow the county to close the satellite jail on North Church Street and transfer prisoners to the fourth floor of the new facility. He said the move will save about $1 million per year in associated costs.

Frank Schier, editor and publisher, said: “The Rock River Times has argued editorially for years the new jail would become a federal detention center. This paper has cited the rejection by voters of the Ogle County Immigration facility as a federal desire thwarted for this area. That, combined with the adjacent new federal courthouse, and now the federal grant, makes it clear that Winnebago County will be the recipient of federal problems and their undesirable consequences. For the health and safety of our community, we just don’t need national or international criminals here. The fact that our own elected officials are eagerly grasping at those criminals for revenue to perpetuate their own empires and grand structures is shameful. I hope the voters remember this in the next election.”

Other critics, such as crime expert Dr. Michael Hazlett, professor of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Administration at Western Illinois University, argue the short- and long-term effects of overbuilding jails are a social and economic drain on communities. Hazlett and other crime experts also argue that funding jail construction and programs with a sales tax is a regressive tax, which unduly burdens the poor.

In response to the county’s first federal jail overcrowding lawsuit in 1994, Syverson and former Winnebago County Board Chairmen Eugene Quinn (R) were instrumental in 1995 in changing the law that allowed shifting funding of public safety matters from local property taxes to sales taxes.

Syverson sponsored the bill while Quinn lobbied for it in Springfield on March 16, 1995 (see Oct. 6, 2004, article “Syverson sponsored jail tax bill”). Also lobbying for the bill was Chicago attorney Kiplund R. Kolkmeier, a supporter of Rockford Mayor Doug Scott.

There were no opponents of Syverson’s bill, which became law on Jan. 1, 1996.

Construction of the jail is in response to voters’ approval in 2002 of the jail tax, which was prompted by a second federal jail overcrowding lawsuit that was filed in 2000. Both lawsuits were filed by local attorney John F. Heckinger Jr., who had his law license suspended 60 days last summer for “unauthorized” use of his clients’ funds.

Many voters who approved the jail tax in 2002 were not aware that increasing the efficiency in the criminal justice system could substantially lower the jail population. Hazlett, a former Texas jail inspector who toured the Winnebago County Jail in 2002, said the jail overcrowding was more likely due to criminal justice system problems, not a need for more jail beds.

However, such independent, expert analysis has fallen on deaf ears at county offices. Instead, the county relied on consultant Mark Goldman’s November 2001 recommendation for the size of the jail. Goldman is a paid sub-consultant for the jail’s architect, The Durrant Group of Madison, Wis.

From the April 13-19, 2005, issue

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