EVANSVILLE — As Vanderburgh County's jail continues to burst with far more inmates than it was built to hold, an expansion is "inevitable," County Commissioners President Bruce Ungethiem told the Evansville Rotary Club Tuesday during the State of the County address.
Last year, the jail on Harlan Avenue had 668 inmates on average. That's in a facility with 512 beds and 30-40 confinement cells.
The current population is 734 inmates in the jail, with another 87 inmates who will soon be transported to other counties for a total of 821 incarcerated.
Conservative estimates place local jail population at 850 by 2027. Based on recent inmate growth, it could top 1,200 by then.
A Blue Ribbon Jail Study Committee has been meeting for four months compiling figures and options. Ungethiem told Rotarians local jail expansion "is inevitable. We're going to have to do something."
The committee's preliminary estimates say building an expansion for 500 more inmates would cost $25 million to $30 million while expanding by 750 could cost $38 million to $53 million.
Operations costs at the facility also will rise.
"It's going to be a huge project. it's going to be something we're going to have to take a bond out and pay off over a period of years," Ungethiem said.
One reason for the jail's population boom is growth in Level 6 felons who because of recent state legislation were moved to county jails from state prisons. It was an unfunded mandate that's hurting county governments, Ungethiem said.
The state, therefore, needs to be a "financial partner" as counties look to expand their incarceration facilities, Ungethiem said.
"The good news is we have land available to do this, and we have some utilities," Ungethiem said during Wednesday's State of the County address, presented with fellow County Commissioners Cheryl Musgrave and Ben Shoulders. "We might have to expand some utilities, but the facility was built for expansion capability."
Some other highlights from Wednesday's State of the County presentation:
*Commissioners said unincorporated areas of Vanderburgh County sustained significant flooding damage — so much, in fact, that FEMA aid is being sought.
Vanderburgh County has met an initial qualification for FEMA assistance, having identified about $800,000 in damages to highways and other county government land and property from the recent heavy rain and flooding
The threshold is $660,000 in damage.
Vanderburgh County's request for FEMA funding is now before state officials.
* The county in 2017 spent $1.5 million on road repairs and another $4 million on reconstruction and bridges.
Projects included reconstructing Heckel Road, fixing the St. Joseph Avenue bridge and adding a traffic signal at Boonville-New Harmony and North Green River Road.
In 2018, the county will widen North Green River Road to five lanes, between Kansas and Boonville-New Harmony roads, a $6.5 million project. Another $1.8 million will go to the reconstruction of Peck Road, near North Junior-Senior High School.
Altogether, the county will invest more than $10 million on local road work in 2018, Musgrave said. Much of that funding will be generated from Tax Increment Financing districts.
* The City-County Dispatch Center is undergoing $4.5 million in repairs, including the replacement of consoles, radios and software and the addition of a third tower at Baseline Road and U.S. 41 to fill in coverage gaps.
Musgrave said call volume to the Dispatch Center and service runs by sheriff's deputies are increasing at a much larger pace than local population.
* Usage of the Old National Events Plaza is increasing, Shoulders said in his remarks. The convention facility had 53 events in 2017, up from 41 the previous year.
ONEP's revenues were about $2.4 million for 2017, about $325,000 above projections and the facility's best year since 2009.