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Author : Ralyn
Article ID : 27
Audience : Default
Version 1.00
Published Date: 2009/11/23 22:20:00
Reads : 818

Plans for Mercer jail addition hinge on lawsuit

Posted Online: May 26, 2009, 10:27 pm
By Stephen Elliott,

ALEDO -- Pending the outcome of a lawsuit, plans for a $5 million expansion project at the Mercer County Jail are proceeding.

"As far as we're concerned, it's a go," said Mercer County Board Chairman Tom Harris.

The project has met with some resistance. On April 30, a lawsuit was filed in Mercer County Circuit Court on behalf of Concerned Citizens for Mercer County (CCMC) and Robert White, an Aledo resident.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the project. It alleges Mr. White, who lives across the street from the Mercer County Jail, would be adversely affected by the expansion.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in late summer, according to architect Tim Downing, of Downing Architects PC, of Bettendorf. The two-story addition will provide 36 additional cells and house up to 72 additional inmates.

The jail currently has a 36-bed capacity.

The county, battling financial problems for years, would pay for the jail through fees it receives for housing out-of-county inmates. A majority of those inmates would be federal inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service, Sheriff Tom Thompson has said.

The lawsuit claims the jail expansion exceeds the authority of the Mercer County Building Commission. The commission was created in 1985 to build the jail. The commission is under the authority of the Mercer County Board.

"It was formed to build the original jail," building commission chairman Doug McCaw said recently. "The county asked us to look into the possibility and gave us guidelines on how much we could spend and interest rates."

The lawsuit claims jail expansion would need voter approval.

James Anderson, senior vice president of Municipal Capital Markets Group Inc., of Denver, Colo., is working with the county on financing the project.

Mr. Anderson has estimated by paying off construction costs in 10 years, the county could make $250,000 a year in revenue from housing out-of-county inmates.

He said the project would not involve taxpayer funds.

Financing would come through certificates of participation, which are securities issued by a bank. If the county decides to finance the project through the Mercer County Public Building Commission, it would use revenue bonds instead of those certificates.

"I can understand why some people are concerned the county will raise taxes," Mr. Anderson said. "The way the transaction is structured, it's not going to happen."

In essence, Mr. Anderson said the revenues gained from housing out-of-county inmates would retire the debt owed on the expansion.

Mercer County State's Attorney Greg McHugh could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Brian Meginnes, Peoria attorney for the CCMC, also could not be reached for comment.

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