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Kansas City decided to build its new jail separate from Jackson County's new jail. Why?

Men and women wearing business attire and wearing white hard hats used shiny, silver shoves to toss dirt in front of yellow earth-moving equipment
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jackson County officials break ground in September 2022 for the county's new detention center at the site of a former mobile home park in northeast Kansas City.

A letter from Mayor Quinton Lucas to Jackson County cited high costs as one of the main reasons the city will pursue an independent jail facility, ending months of talks with county officials.

Kansas City will not share a municipal jail with Jackson County, and will instead pursue its own, separate facility.

The Wednesday decision ends months of talks between officials from both municipalities to potentially share the new detention center, which took the place of a former mobile home park off the U.S. Highway 40 and Interstate 70. Jackson County officials wanted Kansas City to come to a decision on its jail plans by Sept. 15.

“We now believe that, unfortunately, a partnership with the County on terms amenable to both the County and the City is not possible,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a Sept. 6 letter to Jackson County Executive Frank White and DaRon McGee, chairman of the legislature.

In the letter, Lucas said the city is still committed to building a new detention center that “delivers security and safety for our officers, detainees, and the public,” and “provides justice for victims in Kansas City impacted by crime.”

Lucas said a group of city council members will create a plan for a new municipal jail and will decide whether to put the issue to voters next year or include it in the next annual city budget.

Jackson County Executive Frank White and Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté said in a joint statement that they respect the city's decision.

"We value our positive relationship with the City and will continue seeking opportunities for future collaboration that align with the mutual interests of our residents," the statement reads.

For months, Kansas City had made moves indicating a preference toward working with Jackson County. The council passed ordinances directing city officials to collaborate on a jail facility. On Aug. 21, the City Council and County Legislature held a joint session to further discuss such a project.

But the three options presented to city council last week did not instill confidence in a shared detention center.

One option for a shared facility would cost Kansas City between $60 million and $72 million. A second shared option with an operational and maintenance space would cost more, between $183 million and $215 million. A third option for a separate city jail would cost between $179 million and $195 million. All three options require a community resource center for rehabilitation and diversionary programs that would cost an additional $61 million.

J.E. Dunn, the construction company working on the new county jail, told city council last week that a shared jail would cost more in the long run, because the city would have to pay for services like food and laundry.

The county wanted Kansas City to sign an indemnification agreement, which would have put the city on the hook for cost increases of building the facility. According to the letter from Mayor Lucas, a proposed agreement with the county would have given an unspecified amount of city dollars to cover the cost of the $300 million jail.

“While the City is committed to building a state-of-the-art facility and understands that such a facility may be expensive, it cannot now commit to the County’s requested financing structure,” Lucas said in the letter.

Lucas also cited the county’s timeframe as another reason why the city will no longer work with the county on the jail. At the Aug. 21 joint session, city officials learned that they would have just two weeks after J.E. Dunn presented jail options and costs to make their final decision.

Jackson County Legislator Manny Abarca IV said it’s ridiculous the city and county couldn’t work out an agreement. 

“It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to build two facilities that are naturally gonna have similar shared services that we could’ve combined,” he said. “As a taxpayer I’m very upset that this is the outcome.”

Abarca said it seemed like city and county staffers stalled on the project, “long enough to make this impossible to move forward.” 

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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