GREENFIELD — Edgar Moore had a question for the county commissioners: are we building an Impala or a Maserati?
The Greenfield resident was one of about 50 people who filed into the courthouse annex Monday night to learn more about the $55 million new jail project being proposed by the Hancock County Board of Commissioners.
The meeting served as the first of two public hearings legally required for the board to send the issue to voters. The next public hearing is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the same location. Then, the three-member board will vote whether to add a question to ballots in the primary election asking voters whether they support borrowing money for the project.
The proposed jail would cost about $300 per square foot as designed by Indianapolis-based consultant firm RQAW, prompting Moore, a Greenfield business owner, to ask if the commissioners have consulted other design firms about costs.
Are there federal standards regulating how much money must be invested per square foot? Is the jail design being proposed affordable or is it luxurious, he asked.
Commissioner Brad Armstrong said the county has hired two firms over the past decade to study overcrowding at the facility, which housed 176 inmates Monday, 19 over capacity.
The board feels confident RQAW has proposed a design that will meet the county’s need, Armstrong said. The commissioners are seeking a middle-of-the-road design — not cheap but also not over the top, he said.
Commissioner John Jessup chimed in with comparisons to building a home. Jessup, who works in construction, said new home building costs about $100 per square foot, so he’s not surprised a jail costs about three times that amount.
County officials have spent months studying how best to accommodate overcrowding at the local facility. Last spring, RQAW proposed building a new jail and renovating current criminal justice offices to meet the county’s needs.
Since then, officials have debated whether building a new jail is the best option and how to fund a project that size.
Monday, no residents opposed the project, but they did voice their concerns.
Residents questioned whether increasing property taxes is the best funding option. Businesses and farmers, along with homeowners, would all be shelling out more in taxes.
Greenfield resident George Langston said he has concerns increased property taxes could be burdensome for residents who live on fixed incomes.
He doesn’t want to see residents forced out of their homes because they can’t afford rising taxes.
Early estimates show the $55 million project would increase taxes on a $100,000 home by about $45. A $200,000 home would cost about $133 more.
And yet, others asked what’s being done to combat addiction and mental health issues in the current jail, since officials have often suggested they are the basis for many crimes committed.
Patrick Price of Greenfield said he’s not worried about paying higher taxes to fund a new jail if it’s the best option, but he’s concerned about the county’s drug problem and wondered what treatment programs could be tried in the jail now.
Commissioner Marc Huber said the current jail doesn’t have the space to launch some of the treatment programs other communities have implemented. Right now, counselors and probation officers meet with inmates in common areas, and inmates who are undergoing recovery programs are housed with the general population because there is no room for special housing accommodations.
“That does need to be part of the discussion, but I don’t think it 100 percent alleviates the need for a new criminal justice facility,” he said.
A second public hearing on the proposed $55 million criminal justice complex project, which includes construction of a new jail, is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Place.
Residents are invited to weigh in on the project.