Audrain County Jail expansion, bridge structures, and 2017 changes to Missouri’s criminal code were among the many topics discussed at the 19th Annual Legislative Appreciation Banquet last Friday night in Mexico, Mo. The annual Audrain County Farm Bureau event was hosted by the Knights of Columbus Hall, whose members cooked and served food to those in attendance.
Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs and new Audrain County Sheriff Matt Oller discussed the need to expand on the county jail built in 1998.
Hobbs first spoke about the jail during his remarks as he noted that the original jail was built by former Western District Commissioner Tom Groves’ uncle in 1921.
Since the current jail was built in 1998, there has been good management to help store some money back. Intentions include remodeling the jail, replacing older electronics, and expanding to keep up with jail population and regulations.
At the time the jail was built, there were four levels of separation needed for offenders. New regulations require a need for seven levels of separation. These regulations have yet to include likely changes for transgenders, etc. in the future. The plan is to add 30 beds to the jail with expansion to the south while approving the security systems and electronics.
“Making it safer for the jailers, marginally safer for the inmates…and also coming into compliance with federal (inaudible) regulation and all the different things we have to do.”
Hobbs said costs were $120 per square foot in 1998, but now the cost will be about $360 per square foot.
He said $3-$4 million dollars will be spent just in security systems in the jail.
Hobbs noted that the good news is the county can pay for it with existing revenues over a five year shorter period of time for a $6 million expansion project. There was $4.1 million spent when the jail was constructed nearly 20 years ago.
“But the good news is in 15 years that will be paid for out of new revenue stream that we have and for five years we’ll be able to build a surplus and Lord only knows what the regulations and the rules will be 20 years from now…” Hobbs said. “The good news is by good financial management by the past commission and the new commission, we’re going to be able to do it in house. We’re going to be make the necessary improvements to make it safer out there for our people who work the roads and have to house the inmates.”
It was noted that the average census in 1995 was just eight people and not many women were housed in the jail.
Now an entire pod has to be built for women needing placed in jail.
Sheriff Oller said the current jail is in “good shape for a 20-year, hard used building.”
He noted that it is why it’s worth spending the money on the existing location to meet the county’s needs.
One of the challenges will be to continue work as usual at the jail when construction begins at the location as he is not wanting to have to send prisoners to other counties during the remodeling process.
Sheriff Oller said the census count on Friday was 70 but hit 80 the week before, a far cry from the eight in the 1995 census. Capacity for the jail is 103.
As for the female jail population, there are just 12 beds in the current jail for females. This forces the county to send female prisoners to other counties and pay boarding bills because segregation can’t be done as it needs to be.
He also noted that the current set-up doesn’t allow the jail to segregate the population into medium, minimum, and maximum security. He said that can be a liability issue.
Sheriff Oller also said he feels like one of the most fortunate Sheriffs in the state of Missouri after attending events and hearing some Sheriffs talk about their relationships with their county commissions.
As for the rest of Presiding Commissioner Hobbs’ remarks, he also said it had been a bitter sweet couple of weeks as he lost two good friends to retirement but gained two good friends who are now serving alongside him as commissioners.
He first thanked the Audrain County Farm Bureau for their support last April in getting the 1/4 cent sales tax for small structures passed.
Revenues started collecting in October as the plan is being put in place for work to be done on the 538 structures in the county.
As for the past bridge tax, one bridge was completed in December.
The two more needing completed is one 137’ long bridge costing around $650,000 on Audrain County Road 695. The other bridge is on Audrain County Road 948. Both are to be constructed next Summer.
It was noted that the 1/2 cent sales tax for the first bridge program went away in 2010.
Jerry Johnson, the emcee for the event, personally thanked voters for passing the tax as he’s seen its effects while working with the Laddonia-Farber Special Road District.
Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger discussed a new criminal code that was changed on January 1, 2017 for the first time since 1979.
The move changes punishments for a number of offenses as the criminal code has been “redesigned, re-organized, and re-formatted” into five classes of misdemeanors and felonies with different ranges of punishment.
It changes the definition of crimes and the way crimes are to be prosecuted.
Some examples include possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while revoked, both on the first time, resulting in just fines that now have an increase in cost.
It was noted a Class A misdemeanor might have fine increase from $1,000 to $2,000.
Shellabarger discussed the “swift and certain sentences” offenders receive in county jail.
The new code also includes escalation punishments to help deter folks from committing the same crimes as criminals were receiving the same punishment every time they do it over again.
After two times, a third time could escalate things from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“We do a lot of good things right here in Audrain County,” Shellabarger said as he noted how well the agencies in the county work together with his office.
Sheriff Oller said it is still uncertain just how much the new criminal code changes that went into effect on January 1, 2017 are going to be affecting the jail.
New Audrain County Western District Commissioner Tracy Graham said he appreciates the opportunity to serve the citizens of Audrain County.
This was his third day on the job and noted that there is a great staff at the courthouse.
New Audrain County Eastern District Commissioner Alan Winders said commissioners started with budget meetings on day one.
“What better way to start really figuring out what an organization’s about and how it works than to be immersed in the budget,” Winders said.
He too commended the group he gets to work with.
Field Representative Spencer Hoagland attended the meeting, representing U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (District 4-R).
She said there was an eventful first week and specifically discussed Rep. Hartzler’s vote for the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act.
This act is to check the executive branch against legislating by executive flat.
“Over the last eight years, Americans have been inundated with regulation after regulation and rule after rule from the administration,” Hoagland read from a press release for Rep. Hartzler, who is an original co-sponsor of the bill, said.
“They are tired of it. Congress alone has the power to make laws and this bill makes sure legislative authority remains in the hands of the people’s elected representatives, not unelected Washington bureaucrats.”
The REINS Act would require both chambers of Congress to approve of major rules – those with an economic impact of more than $100 million – issued by the executive branch and its sea of regulatory agencies, which effectively have the force of law.
It is noted that the EPA was responsible for nine of the 43 total major rules adding regulatory burden of more than $11 billion.
Field representative Bryan Nichols also attended the meeting on behalf of U.S. Rep Sam Graves (District 6-R).
He discussed regulation concerns and anticipation of changes with the transition of power at the federal level.
Nichols did share some concerns on the Renewable Fuel Standard and EPA not hitting set benchmarks.
It is noted that President-elect Donald Trump has said RFS is a priority.
Nichols also discussed how ground work will be laid during this year for Farm Bill 2018.
State Rep. Jay Houghton (District 43-R) was unable to attend the meeting as he was in New Orleans for a meeting.
State Sen. Jeanie Riddle was unable to attend the meeting due to sickness.
Audrain County Recorder of Deeds Janis Deimeke talked about the Property Fraud Alert, that comes at no cost to residents. She said the software company monitors anything that comes into her office.
She noted a couple of examples of those living in other areas of the country who have had their property sold without them knowing. There are about 400 county residents signed up right now for a program that will help prevent similar things to happen in Audrain County.
She also plugged the Ronald McDonald House and noting that no one knows when they might need it. She thanked the Audrain County Farm Bureau for their support shown in the past for the Ronald McDonald House.
Audrain County Assessor Missy Maupin said that assessment sheets were just sent out on Tuesday. She also noted the online filing website audrain.missouriassessors.com
Audrain County Collector Kate Becker opened by recognizing her husband for helping to cook and clean dishes. She said it was the only night of the year he does that.
She said about $22 million was collected in December.
Becker did note the addition of a bilingual speaker in the office to help with the Spanish-speaking population in the county.
“That’s been a really great benefit to us,” Becker said.
She noted the speaker is only used two to five times per day but it matters a lot to those who need it.
Becker also said she has heard horror stories at other events on the relation between collectors and county commissioners, which is unlike Audrain County.
“We really are one of the few counties, especially around us, that are fiscally sound and it’s because we have a good commission and (Audrain County Clerk) Shelley Harvey is not going to let those boys spend a dollar more,” Becker noted.