County- Juvenile center still too costly

Sunday, January 20, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- Cape Girardeau County commissioners say the budget isn't big enough to build even a 20-bed juvenile detention center.

The numbers don't add up, says Gerald Jones, the county presiding commissioner, who late last month had vowed to build a new center if the price were right.

Jones said the governments of Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties can't afford more than a $2 million bond issue for a building right now.

He said information provided by St. Louis bond counsel Mark Grimm shows that even with a $490,000 down payment, the three counties would have to spend $150,000 a year for 20 years to retire a $2 million bond issue.

Under that scenario, the total cost of a new juvenile center would be $3.5 million.

Jones said that while the three-county juvenile department budget could afford such a bond issue, that still wouldn't provide the 38-cell building that circuit judges and juvenile officers want.

Jones has talked of building a 20-bed center, but even that would carry a nearly $3 million construction price.

Legal point of contention

But juvenile officers and the 32nd Judicial Circuit judges that oversee the juvenile department say the three counties by law should be budgeting more money for juvenile operations. That would provide another $100,000 a year under the funding formula, which could help finance a bigger bond issue for a new juvenile detention center, they say.

John Grimm, presiding circuit judge and Mark Grimm's brother, won't argue his case publicly, citing Missouri Supreme Court rules that prohibit judges from discussing pending litigation.

The three county commissions have appealed to a state board to settle the budget dispute. The seven-member Missouri Judicial Finance Commission has yet to decide the matter. So far, it's been trying to get both sides to reach a settlement.

Under Missouri law, the state since July 1, 1999, has paid the salaries of juvenile officers. Counties pay the rest of the expenses.

Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger counties have contributed $365,000 annually for juvenile department operations in recent years.

Under state law, counties pay on the basis of their populations. Cape Girardeau County pays 69 percent of the tab, or more than $250,000 a year, with Perry County picking up 19 percent or nearly $70,000 and Bollinger County 12 percent or nearly $44,000.

But not all the money has been spent. Jones said the counties have saved the unspent money for future juvenile department expenses such as possibly a new detention center.

As a result, Jones said, there's enough money for a $490,000 down payment.

Jones said if they continue to budget this way, there would be $1 million available for a down payment on a new juvenile center within three years. That would lower bond payments and allow for a bigger bond issue, he said.

"We suggested saving it up three years. That certainly makes sense," he said.

Cape Girardeau County has a $5 million reserve fund, but county commissioners say they don't want to dip into that account for this project.

"The reserve is an emergency fund. There is no emergency here," said Joe Gambill, 2nd District commissioner.

The 10-bed juvenile detention center in Cape Girardeau reopened last month after renovations to improve security following an August fire started by a juvenile.

Gambill said juvenile centers are designed to be more of a temporary holding facility. There's no need for more cells right now, he said.

There's also the issue of what Perry and Bollinger counties can afford. Gambill said those two counties aren't as well off financially as Cape Girardeau County and can't afford to put more money into the juvenile budget.

"We can barely afford what we are paying now," said Larry VanGennip, 1st District commissioner in Bollinger County.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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