Cole County auditor says new jail is over budget

The new jail is on Adams St., between McCarty and High St.

Cole County Auditor Jim LePage dropped a bombshell this week when he announced a $1 million shortfall for the new jail.

But county commissioners said that's not the case.

Cole County commissioners and auditor Jim LePage took a closer look at jail revenue Thursday morning as part of a series of jail budget meetings.

Lepage said the jail is set to exceed its half-cent sales tax revenue by $1 million each year.

"If there was a mistake made, that's what was made," LePage said. "They (the county commission) didn't really realize that there's only so much money to work with and we have to stay within that."

Along with financing costs, the 168,000 sq. ft. jail will cost $35 million.The county has only 15 years to pay off that debt.

"That's one problem, we have too short of a time to pay off $35 million," LePage said. "The other problem is, I think, the jail is too big."

But county commissioners say any financial problems with the jail are not because of their financing strategy, but because of the economy and the resulting drop in revenue from the jail sales tax.

"Right about the time the tax revenue started coming in, the economy took its dive and instead of seeing a modest three percent growth, we saw, in the first year, a four percent reduction," Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said.

Ellinger said its too early to say if there will be any budget imbalance, especially one in the six figure range.

"If we get through the process and at the end we find there is a gap, then we have to go through and figure out what adjustments we make," Ellinger said. "But until you go through all those various expenses, you can't make that conclusion."

Cole County commissioners said they hope to finish reviewing the jail's budget in the next month.

LePage said the county should hire outside experts in both financing and jail operations to help in the discussions.

The new jail is set to open in January and Ellinger said this process should not affect that start date.