New county detention center ruled out by panel

Saturday, June 22, 2002

A state ruling released Friday said no need exists for a new detention center in Cape Girardeau, but then went on to require that the county more than double its funding for juvenile operations.

The ruling, made by the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission, also said that any money left over in the juvenile operation coffers would have to be returned each year to general revenue and could not be rolled over for use the following year.

The ruling drew mixed reviews from area circuit judges, who are pushing for a new juvenile detention center, as well as the Cape Girardeau County Commission, which is not sold on the need for a new center.

"We lost on the dollars, but we won on everything else," said Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones.

Circuit judges and local juvenile officials are pushing for a new juvenile center, but commissioners say the county can't afford a proposed $4.3 million, 38-bed center to be constructed on Progress Street in Cape Girardeau.

The Missouri Judicial Finance Commission, which settles financial disputes between counties and their respective circuit courts, was asked to decide if Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger counties pay enough money to fund juvenile operations.

Jones declined to discuss at length the meaning of the ruling, which he said he had not seen yet. He wanted to take the weekend to read and digest the 10-page legal document.

"I am not going to comment and have egg on my face when I can take some time and look it over," he said. "I want to talk with the other two commissioners and formulate a press release or a statement."

Jones is a member of the finance commission, which is made up of four circuit judges and three county commissioners appointed by the state Supreme Court. Jones recused himself from this case.

Finding more money

Jones did say that he interprets the ruling to mean that the commission would have to come up with the balance of the $470,726, which is more than twice the $157,100 it had budgeted for juvenile operations.

He said they would have to come up with the money for this year's budget. When asked if that would be difficult to raise, he replied: "Absolutely. But they've never spent more than $150,000, so what are they going to do with $470,000?"

Jones said he didn't immediately know how the ruling would affect the commission's decision on whether or not to hire a consultant for $61,000 to look at future needs for the juvenile center.

Circuit Judge John Grimm, an advocate for building a new juvenile center, said that he was "not necessarily" displeased with the ruling, since they had not submitted the issue to the commission to determine whether there was a need for a new center. The only issue the judges were interested in getting resolved is how much funding juvenile operations should be getting, Grimm said.

Higher-level support

"So now the commission will have to start funding it at a higher level," Grimm said. "That was the primary issue we asked them to resolve. In our brief, we told them we were not asking them to address the need for a detention center."

Grimm said they wanted an answer to the financial situation before addressing the detention center issue.

"The fact that there's no showing of need doesn't necessarily surprise me," Grimm said. "We didn't ask them to look at that."

Grimm said that he doesn't think that the ruling affects the decision-making process at all, despite the fact that the ruling says there's no need for a detention center.

"They're two separate issues," he said. "I hope the county commission goes ahead with its plans to hire its consultants and get some expert opinion. We hope this opinion lays the groundwork to resolve any other issues that remain."

Grimm also pointed out that the judges aren't necessarily pushing for the 38-bed, $4.3 million facility that one architect came up with.

"That was just one estimate, and it's been tagged to us like that's all we're looking for," Grimm said. "That's not accurate. We've always been willing to discuss with the county commission about the size and the scope of the facility."

Circuit Judge Robert G. Dowd Jr., who is chairman of the state Judicial Finance Commission, said that he could not comment about the merits of the ruling.

"The opinion speaks for itself," he said. "We aren't allowed to talk about it more because either party can appeal."

The current 10-bed detention center in Cape Girardeau is 27 years old. It was renovated and outfitted with electronic locks on cell doors following a fire last fall, but juvenile authorities say the building is inadequate.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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