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The Scoop - County shouldn't borrow $6.5M

I have a police scanner that sits about two feet from my desk in the Standard newsroom. It's stunning some of the calls that come over the scanner, giving me complete appreciation of our officers in the law enforcement community.

I wouldn't want to step into the middle of a hostile domestic situation, or chase a criminal who is believed to be armed, so I'm very thankful there are people in our community willing to do these things.

I imagine it's even more difficult to maintain order inside Warren County Jail, a place filled with nothing but people who break the law. So I'm not questioning the need for the county to spend $18,000 on tasers for the jail. If our officers need them, buy them.

What I am questioning is the $6.5 million that's dangling out there for Warren County Jail expansion. This was money approved by the county last year when all signs pointed to the county expanding its jail which was overcrowded by more than 50 inmates at the time.

However, jail expansion plans hit a snag when estimates were almost $2 million more than the $6.5 million earmarked. Then we had county elections in August and 11 seats changed hands on the Warren County Commission.

This has led to a change in approach and the emphasis now is on letting people out of jail. Over the past month, a man has been convicted of dealing meth and was given a five-year sentence, to be served on full probation. In another case, a lady was allowed to plea to first-offense DUI from what could have been her third offense, a difference in 118 days of jail time.

This can be viewed as a good thing because a great many Warren County resident were opposed to spending $6.5 million for jail expansion. I talked to some people who absolutely hated the idea.

Which brings me to that $6.5 million that's still dangling out there for county officials to use. Since a big jail expansion project appears firmly off the table, the county should determine how much is needed for any type of smaller jail renovation project then pass a resolution to reject using the rest of the money.

It's always been my belief that government will find a way to spend every dime it's given. If we could wave a magic wand and completely double the size of Warren County's annual budget, the money would be spent. 

Which brings me back yet again to that $6.5 million that won't be used for a massive jail expansion project. Unless taxpayers want to watch county officials go on a multi-million dollar shopping spree, action needs to be taken to declare that money won't be used.

The money was approved to be borrowed for jail expansion. If jail expansion is not happening, the county does not need to borrow that money. County officials need to spell out in clear language the $6.5 million won't be used. If not, I can guarantee it will be spent on something.

Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.