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If Jackson County legislators don't act by May 1, the new jail's price could jump by millions

Since Jackson County broke ground on a new jail in September very little work has been done.
Sam Zeff
Since Jackson County broke ground on a new jail in September very little work has been done.

The group designing and building the jail says it's held the line on costs as long as they possibly can. But a new majority in the Jackson County legislature has other ideas for what a new jail should look like — or if one should be built at all.

The Jackson County Legislature now has a May 1 deadline to act on a plan that would cap the price of a new jail at $301 million.

A letter to the county from JCDC Partners, the company designing and building the project, said it has held the line on cost as long as possible.

“This monthly escalation will undoubtedly cost the County several million dollars which would negatively impact the ability to deliver a project that meets your stated goals and program,” the letter, dated April 12, said.

KCUR obtained the letter through the Missouri Sunshine Law.

In fact, the letter said, the price of copper has already shot up $200,000 and there is little JCDC can do about that. While that cost increase can be absorbed into the previous budget, any future increase could be problematic.

Jackson County legislators are set to discuss the $301 million budget on Monday, after taking no action on the issue this week.

There is also concern among some county officials that the new majority on the Legislature will put the question to build a new jail to voters — which could delay a new detention center for years.

“I fear the price will go so high that we’ll never have a new jail,” said Legislator Jalen Anderson.

The project is already $44 million over the original cost. When the county broke ground in September the price tag was $256 million. But even as county officials were using golden shovels to break ground, JCDC warned the price was going to increase.

“As recent budgets have been developed it is apparent that the program and design criteria will not be able to be constructed for the $256.5 million budget,”JCDC said in a monthly update. (There has not been an update from JCDC posted to the website since November.)

The county planned on having a 1,200 bed facility which could be expanded if needed. The number of beds may have to be reduced even if the Legislature approves a $301 million price tag. The current downtown jail has about 750 beds but the population often hovers right under 1,000.

Further complicating the project are ongoing discussions with Kansas City over whether to build a combined facility. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says he expects talks with the county to pick up steam in the months ahead.

“Why would you build a $200 million city jail and a $300 million county jail, and spend half a billion or more on incarceration, when perhaps there are economies of scale by putting them together,” Lucas told KCUR this week.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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