Champaign County commissioners plan to spend the money they have saved the past few years on capital improvement projects in 2014, hoping to pay most bills in cash.
“We’ve been saving it to do some of these projects, because we don’t have that much after each budget. We just haven’t spent much the last two or three years. We don’t want to borrow money,” Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said.
The commissioners plan to approve a final budget before Jan. 10 and expect the general funds account to be in the neighborhood of $12 million.
One of the most expensive projects will be a new sally port for the Champaign County courthouse, costing around $500,000.
To make room for the sally port, the county is planning to tear down the old jail, which was built in the mid 1800s.
A sally port is a garage-like area designed to help secure the transfer of prisoners in and out of the Champaign County Courthouse.
The new sally port is part of a long-term courthouse security project, according to Champaign County Commissioner Steven Hess.
Deputies will drive prisoners into the sally port, and from there they are put into holding cells to await their hearings.
“Before, deputies had to unshackle the prisoners to take prisoners to the holding cells, and that was a liability,” Champaign County Commissioner Dave Faulker said. “It’s gotten by, but it needs to be updated.”
In January, the county plans to put out the bid to demolish the jail.
Deputies will drive the prisoners straight into the sally port. They will be contained in the enclosed area, and there will be three holding cells and a bathroom for inmates to use before going into court.
The sally port is just part of the county’s plan to improve overall security at the courthouse.
In 2013, the courthouse moved security from the basement to the first floor and added a magnetron, which allows deputies to x-ray bags entering the courthouse.
Another project related to courthouse security is video arraignments.
Currently, three of the six courts the Tri-County Regional jail works with use video arraignments.
The Champaign County Common Pleas Court is one of the three that does not, and Judge Nick Selvaggio is spearheading the project to improve video equipment at the jail and move everyone to using video arraignments.
“I think we are all in favor of video arraignments,” Corbett said.
One of the biggest accomplishments for the county in 2013 was keeping the number of prisoners from Champaign County in the jail down, according to the commissioners.
The commissioners said it was a team effort that included Selvaggio, Municipal Court Judge Susan J. Fornof-Lippencott and County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi.
“There was a time when jail overcrowding was putting us at the brink of total destruction,” Corbett said.
Selvaggio said there was a five-year span the county spent $3.5 million dollars on jail overcrowding.
“I think the whole county team understands what an impact it has on everybody,” Hess said. “When we spend that money on prisoner housing and medical, it takes away from what we can spend on everything else, and I think that message was received.”
Hess said he could remember when the county had 103 prisoners in the jail, and the county is allotted 60 beds.
One day in December the number of prisoners from Champaign County got down to 33. Hess said the number of prisoners had averaged 60 to 70 daily, and this year it was down to 40 to 50.
Instead of losing money to jail overcrowding, the county will get a few thousands dollars from Union County because it was using some of the beds allotted to Champaign County.
“I enjoyed every second of it,” Corbett said when asked about the lower numbers in the jail.
Finally, the county plans to do routine maintenance work it has had to put off over the years due to either jail overcrowding or rough financial times, Corbett said.
“These are all the things you have to put off when the budget is tight,” Faulkner said. “You just couldn’t keep up with it.”
The county building, 1512 U.S. 68, has 2 acres of rooftop and still has the original roof and 13 roof units from when it was built in 1989.
Eleven units are new and 7 were replaced in 1997.
Each roof unit costs between $6,000 and $8,000, depending on the size.
To fix the roof at the county building, it would cost $400,000.
The commissioners do no plan to fix the entire roof this year, but hope to replace the units that need it the most and do some repairs to the roof.
They are also considering work on the roof of the courthouse.
When the jail is torn down and the sally port is built, the remaining space will become a parking lot.
They have wanted to redo the parking lot at the courthouse for a while, but did not want to waste money by re-paving it and then tearing it up to demolish the jail.
The commissioners also plan to re-pave the parking lot in the back of the county building as well.