GREENFIELD — Hancock County officials are poised to spend roughly $350,000 on new jail cell locks, but they’re mum on the reason.
The expenditure will come in addition to $150,000 spent earlier this year on a new computerized control system to make the jail more secure.
Sheriff Mike Shepherd and Maj. Brad Burkhart said the new control system pointed out the need for an upgrade to cell locks. They consider the need an emergency but would not elaborate on why.
“We’re not trying to hide anything; it’s just the sensitive nature of it now,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd insisted the jail is secure. But he added it’s important to make an upgrade to the facility’s locks, which date to the jail’s opening in 1988.
Hancock County Commissioners met in executive session regarding the security issue last week, and the Hancock County Council met in executive session Wednesday. Neither meeting was open to the public.
The issue was the first thing the council addressed Wednesday. The fiscal branch passed a resolution that sets the wheels in motion for paying for the new locks.
Councilman Jim Shelby said because the locks will need to be purchased immediately, the county will have to dip into existing funds. But the resolution states that those funds could be reimbursed by a future bond.
“It looks like we have to come up with a significant amount of money in the short term – like, in weeks,” Shelby said. “So we would have to use funds currently available for that from some existing balances. So then if we want to … replenish the fund from which we have to take that emergency money, then this would allow us to do it.”
Councilman John Jessup voiced concern about the county taking on another bond, but his peers assured him that the resolution does not necessarily mean a bond will be issued. Rather, the council would have to have another vote in the future on whether to take on more debt.
The council did not decide on which fund it would use to pay for the locks. Next, the county commissioners must discuss the topic and determine there is a need for the purchase. The commissioners would send the issue back to the council to find the money.
Just how much the new system would cost is in flux. Crowder Detention of Carmel has given a quote of $352,000.
But because the system is costly, state law requires a competitive bid process. Burkhart said he doesn’t know whether another company would be able to submit a quote and whether the emergency status of the purchase would allow the county to simply go with Crowder.
But county attorney Ray Richardson said even if the purchase is an emergency, it’s important for county officials to get other quotes to determine which company would offer the best deal.
Crowder is not the same company that installed the computer control panel earlier this year. Security Automation System installed that, and Burkhart said there is no problem with the control panel; rather, the control panel project pointed out the need for the new locks.
“It’s something we can’t really talk about publicly, other than it’s a security issue and it needs to be addressed,” Burkhart said.