The Mercer County Jail needs more out-of-county inmates to keep up with payments on a $5.8 million jail expansion approved by the county in 2010.|
The expansion, which expanded jail capacity by 72 prisoners — to a total of 102 — was proposed in 2009 as a way to create revenue for the county, but that revenue is only there when there are at least 71 out-of-county inmates, according to County Board Chariman Jeff McWhorter.
Sheriff Tom Thompson said the jail had 52 inmates on Friday, 36 of which are federal inmates.
The county has had to use various means to meet a bi-annual payment to the Mercer County Public Building Commission. Mr. McWhorter said the county pays approximately $440,000 a year to the building commission for jail expansion payments.
Mercer County pays a lease payment to the public building commission, which, in turn, pays the trustee (U.S. Bank), according to Mr. McWhorter.
"We've met them (payment obligations) one way or another, whether it's robbing Peter to pay Paul," Mr. McWhorter said.
Mr. McWhorter said the county is working with Cook County on a possible agreement to bring up to 40 inmates to the Mercer County Jail.
"We've got to be (optimistic)," Mr. McWhorter said. "We don't have any other choice. The sheriff is trying his best to speed up the process."
Sheriff Thompson said Cook County had three representatives from its jail staff touring the Mercer County Jail this week.
"Basically, they wanted to look the place over and check if there were any security issues," Sheriff Thompson said. "I was encouraged by what the folks in Cook County had to say. The next step is to get an intergovernmental agreement."
Sheriff Thompson said the Mercer County and Cook County boards would have to sign off on an agreement.
Earlier this month, the county board discussed options on refinancing the jail debt. The interest rate on the 20-year jail bonds is 4 percent. Board members Larry Stone and Ted Pappas said bankers had told them the rate could be lowered to 2.7 percent on a 30-year note.
Board members agreed the idea would be passed along to the county's Public Building Commission.
Mercer County Treasurer Mike Bertelsen said the Public Building Commission made the December bond payment with its own money, money that comes from a property tax levy, according to Mr. Bertelsen.
The building commission was paid back by the county using proceeds from the sale of the airport last September.
Mr. Bertelsen said he is encouraged by the potential contract with Cook County.
"The sheriff is optimistic, and I think his optimism is warranted," Mr. Bertelsen said.
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