04/13/12 — It's a lock: Wise decision on jail now will protect taxpayers' money later

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It's a lock: Wise decision on jail now will protect taxpayers' money later

OK, let's face it: No one really wants to care how comfortable those who are staying in the county jail are.

Truth is, if you do not want to endure the conditions in the county lockup, the best plan is to stay out of there in the first place. Same goes for the state prisons.

So there were probably a few people, and at least two county commissioners, who might not have been too thrilled about paying a bill to fix up the county jail.

But there is more to this issue -- and understanding that is critical if we are going to keep this county's budget on the straight and narrow.

First off, there is nothing wrong with keeping an eye on costs and demanding that the best bids are picked at the lowest cost. Taking care to make sure that processs runs smoothly and legally is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities of any governing body responsible for handling the public's money. Want to know what happens when you do not keep a sharp eye out? Just ask the Wayne County school district.

County governments and others need to pick bids not just for lowest cost either. The estimations should be realistic and include quality construction and materials. The only thing worse than having to repair a jail is to pay a bunch of money for one that was supposed to last decades that becomes a problem before the keys are officially exchanged.

The county needs to be diligent to make sure that the work is done well this time.

But now to the heart of the matter.

There are certain basic requirements for a jail -- it must meet building codes and provide a safe environment for both prisoners and jail staff. That means if there is significant work to be done, procrastinating will not save anybody any money.

If the state inspects the property and finds these basic standards are not met, that is scary for many reasons, not the least of which is that state regulators can fine a county, close its facility and force it pay to house prisoners elsewhere or demand a new jail be constructed at a much higher cost.

There is not often much wiggle room either.

So while most of us would rather spend our money somewhere else, the reality is that not spending it now, and continuing the years of song and dance on how to solve this problem, will only result in more expense.

So here it is, bottom line: This is not about what Sheriff Carey Winders wants. It is not about whether the inmates are angry or upset. It is not even about Republicans or Democrats.

It is about a responsible, and long overdue, decision to do the right thing before it costs taxpayers a boatload of money.

And that is the real truth, no matter what the politicians say.

Published in Editorials on April 13, 2012 10:54 AM