Installing isolation cells in the county jail dominated the St. Francois County Commission meeting Monday morning at the courthouse annex.
Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher explained that there were a large amount of CARES Act funding applications received, complicating the process.
“We were hoping that there would be money left over to do these cells, and based on how much work we could get done before the end of the year, attach the COVID funds for that, I don’t think there’s going to be much funds left,” he said. “If that’s the case, the county’s going to be hit with a $1 million plus bill. We don’t have that much budgeted, it’s a huge risk for us.”
County Clerk Kevin Engler asked, “We didn’t put any money in the budget for this, even though we were making plans for it?”
Gallaher answered, “We didn’t plan for it in time. This started after the first of the year.”
Engler continued, “We’ve only approved half of the [CARES] money, correct?”
Gallaher said that there’s more funds coming.
Engler asked, “But ours isn’t part of that?”
Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson added, “Ours isn’t a part of that, we don’t know what part will be available.”
Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins commented, “I don’t think we should proceed with a jail project. I want to get this done, but what if there’s no money left in the CARES fund, we would be responsible for an additional….”
Engler interrupted, “Do you guys not manage the CARES fund?”
Mullins spoke about the current difficulties getting the applications finished and awarded to recipients.
Gallaher didn’t think it was fair to put the county ahead of all the entities that the CARES Act was set up for.
Colin Rogers of Brockmiller Construction interjected, “I guess I’m a little confused, we’ve been working on this project for several weeks and I’ve been told to move forward several times now. I’m concerned now it’s at a standstill or we’re doing it, or not doing it.”
Gallaher added, “In my mind, we’re not doing it, because of the rush of applications.”
Rogers continued, “…Across the state, from my experiences, jails and prisons are hotspots for this virus. I’m kind of curious why it’s not important to make this project proceed to protect inmates and staff.”
Gallaher said it was tough decision, but the county couldn’t do it. “There’s just too much risk involved.”
County Auditor Louie Seiberlich asked for the estimated cost for the project.
Gallaher answered, “$1 million plus. The hope was, that we could have 60-80%, whatever, to build before the deadline. And that would apply for CARES Act, assuming money was available. But that would leave $200,000-400,000, whatever’s left over for the county to come up with no matter what. But with the money possibly not being there, then we are standing for the whole amount. It’s not in the budget, it’s not there.”
Seiberlich pointed out that sales tax is up about $750,000 this year compared to the previous year, and will probably exceed $1 million in sales tax revenue this year.
Gallaher was concerned about spending all the tax funds on the one project. After some more discussion, he referred to Jeremy Tanz, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission (RPC), who was at the meeting, to clarify about prioritizing CARES funds for the project. RPC is administering the funds for St. Francois County.
“These funds were distributed to the counties for the public,” Tanz said. “Their primary focus was public use for the counties and municipalities. The municipalities and counties were not getting assistance from other programs. That’s why we prioritized public entities. You do have the option to obligate these funds for this project and get it started.”
Jail Lt. Jamie Crump stressed the need for the isolation units. “This is something that if this pandemic would pass and there would be another one, there would be a standing structure for us to deal with it. You’ve got prisons full of it, you’ve had it in Washington County, we’ve been lucky to have one case that has been isolated. This is something that will carry on.
"There’s a section in the CARES Act that said it could be used for the jails for this stuff. It’s protecting inmates coming in, staff coming in, you have inmates going back out into the public.”
Rogers assured the commission that much of the work would be done before the end of the year.
“We were ready to start as early as last week. I have the foundations design, steel designed. I have materials waiting to be ordered. I’ve made sure everything is in stock that we can get it by the end of the year. I think in all reality, we get a majority done by the end of the year. I would lean toward 70-80% by the end of the year. However, I’ve got to be able to proceed 100%, I need to be actually be able to get up and build it.”
After some discussion with more of the audience in favor of building the units, Gallaher changed his mind.
“After listening to your input, I’m ready to swing my opinion a little bit,” he said. “If we can get a major part of this done early on, and it is for the protection of our people’s health, I see that. Apparently, our auditor’s office is willing to look at that surplus sales tax money for this input. In that case, I do recommend that we go ahead with this construction site.”
The commission unanimously voted to add the five isolation cells to the county jail.
The next county commission meeting will be Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. at the courthouse annex.
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at email@example.com
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