Commissioners hire juvenile consultant

Friday, May 24, 2002

DIVIDED DECISION

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

JACKSON, Mo. -- A divided Cape Girardeau County Commission hired a consultant on Thursday to assess juvenile department needs as it wrestles with the issue of whether to build a new detention center.

The commission voted 2-1 to hire Huskey & Associates, a Chicago consulting firm that specializes in juvenile detention planning. The study will cost $61,000 and should be completed by the end of October, county officials said.

Commissioners Gerald Jones and Joe Gambill voted to hire the firm. Larry Bock, 1st District commissioner, voted against spending the money.

"I don't think it was necessary," Bock said. "I think we are big enough boys to make our own decisions."

The county last year renovated the existing center in Cape Girardeau, installing electronic locks and making other improvements.

"We updated it and we have 10 cells at present," Bock said.

A state-administrated grant will pay half of the consulting expenses, with the county paying the other half.

Bock said the county government needs to conserve its money. "The county budget is getting tight so any money we don't have to spend, I don't want to spend it," he said.

But Jones several weeks ago suggested hiring the consultant as a way to resolve the current controversy over whether to build a new juvenile center. Jones left town after Thursday's vote and couldn't be reached for comment.

In a letter to the county commission, consultant Bobbie Huskey wrote that the study will include an assessment of juvenile crime trends, the current detention center in Cape Girardeau, future bed-space needs and a 10-year master plan that includes construction cost projections.

Circuit judges and local juvenile officials have pushed for construction of a new juvenile center, but commissioners say the county can't afford a proposed $4.3 million, 38-bed center.

The issue has led to a budget fight that's now before the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. The commission will decide if Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger counties pay enough money to fund juvenile operations. The three counties have contributed $365,000 annually for juvenile department operations in recent years.

The circuit judges want more money budgeted for juvenile operations, which could finance a bigger bond issue for a new juvenile center.

Circuit Judge John Grimm said he was pleased the county commission hired Huskey.

"I think that is an excellent step toward getting this situation resolved," he said.

Grimm said hiring the consultant, however, won't put a halt to the legal matter before the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. He said the state commission of judges and county commissioners hasn't ruled yet on the budget issues.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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