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Should Kansas City build a new jail? Share with Jackson County? It must decide soon

Since Jackson County broke ground on a new jail in September very little work has been done.
Sam Zeff
/
KCUR 89.3
Jackson County broke ground on its new jail last September. Now, Kansas City is considering whether to share the facility with the county.

The county gave Kansas City officials a Sept. 15 deadline to decide if the city will share its facility.

Jackson County wants Kansas City officials to make up their minds on where to put a municipal detention center by Sep. 15.

The big question looming over the City Council is whether to build a separate jail from Jackson County or share the county’s detention center, which is currently under construction.

Representatives from construction company J.E. Dunn presented three jail options to Mayor Quinton Lucas and the city council on Friday in a special legislative session. Two options would have the city and the county share the same detention center, the former site of a mobile home park located off Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 40. Another option would give the city a separate jail facility.

One of the options for a shared facility would cost Kansas City between $60 million and $72 million, and include separate pods for Kansas City detainees. The second option for a shared facility includes an operational and maintenance space and separate pods for city detainees. That would cost between $183 million and $215 million.

The third option, for a separate municipal detention facility, would cost between $179 million and $195 million.

All three options include a community resource center, which would cost an additional $61 million, according to J.E. Dunn. A community resource center would house rehabilitation and diversionary programs and restart services, and become the place for reentry and court-ordered programs.

Kimiko Gilmore, deputy city manager, said sharing a facility with Jackson County would save the city $3 million in construction. But she said after four to five years, the city would use up that $3 million savings and incur higher costs running the facility.

Mayor Lucas said that didn’t make logical sense.

“I want to understand, I guess, why our pro rata share of laundry and food services are going to be more expensive long term with Jackson County than they are independently,” he said.

J.E. Dunn told council members that the city would have to negotiate with the county on the costs of providing and sharing those services.

It would cost Kansas City about $7 million to share its laundry and kitchen services with Jackson County J.E. Dunn said. If Kansas City built its own laundry and kitchen facility, it would cost $10 million.

4th District-at-Large Councilman Crispin Rea characterized sharing operation and maintenance costs with Jackson County as a “losing proposition from the very beginning.”

“That just doesn't catch up to us until that return of investment flips and the $3 million that we saved on construction costs has been realized,” Rea said.

As Kansas City weighs its options, Jackson County is asking for an indemnification agreement to protect itself against any additional costs to build the detention center. An indemnification agreement would obligate Kansas City to compensate the county for any increased building costs.

In 2019, Kansas City officials studied the need for a new municipal detention center. That study recommended a jail with 310 beds and an additional 76 medical and mental health beds.

The study also recommended a site for a future municipal jail — right next to the land Jackson County purchased for its detention center.

Following the meeting, Mayor Lucas said council members still have unanswered questions.

“We also need to see, how is it actually to be financed?” Lucas said. “Are we asking our taxpayers for a bond obligation? Are we asking our taxpayers for sales taxes?”

Lucas said he thinks the city can meet the Sep. 15 deadline. He said he also wants the city to address how to best deliver mental health services to people engaging in criminal acts.

“Involuntary detention is likely still necessary in those situations, but how do we actually do the corrections part of a correction system?” he said. “In connection with that, more information on effective approaches there is going to be vital for us.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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