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Champaign Cty Board to Weigh Future of Two Jails

The Champaign County Board is prepared to take a straw vote Tuesday on whether to close the downtown jail, and expand the satellite facility.

But one activists group is opposed to what's been supported by Republican County Sheriff Dan Walsh and at least one Democratic Board member. County board Democrat Carol Ammons, who's also with CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, contends that the appropriate research hasn't been done.

"This is not a one time (payment) of putting up your building and the costs end," Ammons said. "This is going to be a recurring cost, which is not captured anywhere. That's why we're calling for a real study to be done. Of course, Mr. Betz does not believe that we need to invest any money into a real study. But I beg to differ. You're asking the taxpayers for upwards of $20-million with no actual study."

Ammons was referring to Democrat Tom Betz, who heads the county board's facilities committee. Tuesday night's discussion will focus on an engineer's report that focuses on structural problems with the downtown facility. Ammons also says the county's African-American Community will be adversely affected since more than half of those incarcerated locally are black. She says jail expansion is both a financial and a human development issue, saying expansion 'can't be discussed in a vacuum."

Republican county board member John Jay says he'll need a little more convincing before deciding the downtown jail is unusable. He also questions where the funding for the expansion will come from.

"We have some theories about some bonds coming due that we'll be able to utilize, but all that need to be laid out," Jay said. "I don't think that the amount that we orginally talked about is going to be close enough. The other thing that we really don't know, until we get into the process, what are we looking at? Are we looking at $25 to 35-million? I don't have a clue."

The county board study session is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, following a 5:30 press conference from the citizens' group.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics