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ATTENTION! Jail expansion could head to final votes, speak now or forever hold your peace PDF Print E-mail
Written by Denise Freitag Burdette   
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 9:53 PM

Are you for a renovated/expanded Dearborn County jail or against? Personally, it is not my tax money.
I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other.
But there is one thing I know for sure, if it were my tax money at stake, I would want to know everything up front before making a decision.
If the people of Dearborn County want a big jail, that’s great. If you want the bare minimum to meet standards, that’s fine too.
No matter how you feel, or if you remain undecided, know that a special county commissioners meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26, at the county administration building, 215B W. High St., Lawrenceburg, is an important one.
If you want your voice to be heard on this subject, make sure you are at that meeting.
A presentation is planned for the latest information on the plan and the costs. A motion could be made that night that passes a recommendation on to county council. County council members ultimately decide if and how a recommendation will be funded.
If you need some background on the project, or want to take a glimpse at some of the plans, go to www.thedcregister.com, read the story on the front page of the newspaper and the letter to the editor by county commissioner Jeff Hughes on this page.
Then, if you decide to go, may I recommend you keep at least two things in mind.

Thing One
Remember there was an election Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Not that you have forgotten, with all the presidential political ads bombarding us from Ohio, the election is still seared into many of our minds.
But presidential politics aside, the election also ushered in two new county commissioners and two new county council members.
That could be key to this decision process. As of January, the voting dynamics could shift on one or both boards.
For example, commissioner Tom Orschell will no longer be in office after December. At the previous commissioner meeting he said he did not feel comfortable voting on a recommendation right before two new commissioners took office. They might have input.
If he decides to stick with the decision not to vote, the odds are in favor of no recommendation passing the commissioners board Nov. 26. Two out of the three votes are needed. Take Orschell out of the equation, that leaves commissioners Jeff Hughes and Shane McHenry.
In the past Hughes has voted against the jail renovation/expansion plans due to concerns about the costs. McHenry has voted in favor of what he feels is a needed project.
That leaves a one-to-one tie, with no one to break it.
You might like that scenario if you do not like the jail project. If you are in favor of the project, however, you might want Orschell to vote.
Orschell has said ultimately, he will do what he feels is best for the county.
No matter how you feel, your input Nov. 26 could be critical to whether Orschell decides to vote, or allow the incoming commissioners to make the decision.
Then there is county council.
Again, if you are counting on people to vote the same as the past, council will be losing two jail expansion/renovation plan supporters when Bryan Messmore and Maynard Barrett leave office at the end of the year. Their seats on council will be filled with Randy Lyness and Charles Keyes.
Now, depending on the issue regarding the jail, the seven-member council usually votes 4 to 2, in favor of jail renovation/expansion plans. The president usually does not vote unless needed. That does not mean the council members who vote in favor of the plan never ask questions, or ask for changes to keep the costs down. But ultimately, that is how the vote usually goes.
If a recommendation is not passed by commissioners until after the new year. The vote total on council may stay the same, but it also could change.
Randy Lyness is the father of Jeff Lyness, vice president of Maxwell Construction, the company hired as project manager for the proposed jail renovation/expansion. This could lead to a conflict of interest that prevents him from voting on the issue. If he abstains, the vote might depend on how Keyes feels about the recommendation. If needed to vote in case of a tie, council president Dennis Kraus would cast the deciding vote.
Now just because someone votes one way in the past, does not mean their vote will stay the same. But you can see how the election could impact this issue. This is where the public could have some major influence, whether in favor or against what commissioners may recommend.

Thing Two
The last consistent figure discussed for the project was $9.3 million. From what I was told, a $9.3 million option will still be on the table. But, there also will be other options presented to commissioners that could come with a bigger price tag.
Again, you might think that is not a bad thing. Not that anyone likes paying more for anything, but you may feel it is a good overall investment for the safety and welfare of the community. Or you might think $9.3 million is plenty or too much. That is your call.
Just make sure a smaller price tag is not going to mean an addition a year later, really resulting a in a bigger price tag, in an effort to avoid a referendum. If the project costs $12 million or more, and property tax money is used, by law the issue must go to referendum.
There is nothing wrong with designing renovations to allow possible expansion in the future. But make sure any “future” additions and changes are truly meant for the long-term future, not a year or two later just keep the costs appearing lower than they utilimately will be.
So, love it, like it or hate it, make sure you let your county representatives know how you feel about it.

Denise Freitag Burdette is assistant news editor for The Journal-Press & The Dearborn County Register.