You probably know about the Allen County Jail project by now, but what's the system behind it? This week, we share exclusive insights on the controversial project and a Q&A on county government systems, so you can better understand the situation at hand.
We also share details on a healing arts collective, offering Thai massage and other creative wellness programs in Fort Wayne, plus $5 yoga classes at Electric Works and a Juneteenth celebration this weekend.
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Allen County residents showed up to oppose a tax increase to build a new jail—and demand more public input on the project.
About 60 residents came to a public hearing last week at Citizens Square to oppose a 0.2% local income tax increase to fund the new Allen County Jail project (estimated for $350M) at 2911 Meyer Rd. For taxpayers earning a median household income of $54,857, their tax liability would go up $103.13 annually. Beyond taxes, many residents voiced general opposition to the new jail project, saying not enough citizens of diverse races and incomes have been asked to weigh in. After the meeting, we caught up with County Councilman Paul Lagemann, R-3rd, who believes a vote on the tax increase set for this Thursday at 8:30 a.m. will be postponed.
- You might remember: Plans for a new Allen County Jail have been a controversial topic for more than a year now since a U.S. District Court Judge ordered the county to address understaffing and overcrowding at the current jail in Downtown Fort Wayne. Orders say the jail's capacity must expand to more than 1,000 inmates. The current jail is considered “operationally full” at 593 inmates, and at times in recent years, its capacity has exceeded 800.
- Allen County's three commissioners, charged with managing the project, have said the only way to meet this demand is to build a new jail—and quickly. They hired Elevatus Architecture to do it, who quoted the project at $350M, prompting a 0.2% local income tax increase, which needs to be approved by the seven-person Allen County Council. Commissioners would like construction to begin in Spring 2024.
- Lagemann says he is not comfortable with the jail's current $350M price tag and senses similar concerns among his fellow county councilmembers. “That figure hasn’t made any sense to any of us since the very beginning.” At roughly $241K per bed and $638 per square foot, the estimate outpaces the cost of Indianapolis's jail, which holds more than twice as many inmates at $152K per bed and $602 per square foot.
- Even so: He acknowledges that a new jail is likely necessary—just not as large as the architects have proposed. “I don’t think the current facility is feasible or safe for anybody. But they've designed the structure of the new jail to accommodate 3,000 inmates with pod additions. (The most recent version has been cut back to 2,000.) I’d like to see that number lower still because I know that if we build a bigger jail, they will fill it. I believe a capacity of 1,080 gets us where we need to be now, with the ability to expand in the future.”
- If adjustments can be made, Lagemann believes a reduced 0.15% local income tax increase is likely. He says several council members have requested to bump the vote on funding the project to July when a more agreeable price might be reached.
- And if the public feels left out of conversations about the jail, they’re not alone. Lagemann says county council has felt bypassed in the hurried process, too. “The commissioners aren’t meeting with us. I’ve read about most of the changes and the movement through the process in the paper, as a councilman. My concern is: There’s all this pressure for us to adopt a rate and move forward and do it all really fast, but we just haven’t been party to the process at all.”
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