Tazewell County has a laundry list of repairs and upgrades for its facilities, but it seems it may be taken to the cleaners when it comes to the money needed to complete the projects.
One of the most urgent issues is at the Tazewell County Justice Center — its “informer” has died. The informer is a component of the sheriff’s department Electronic Security Control System.
Deputy Chief Jeff Lower has over the past several years been making small repairs on the system as the budget allowed, which extended the life and cut costs. Lower has overseen all of the security electronics for the sheriff’s department since the jail was completed in March 2002.
The county paid for a study by Dewberry after the jail was built that gave a replacement schedule and life expectancy of the electronics and all other components of the building, said Lower.
“We’ve tried to work toward this, but it’s so expensive we’ve had to kind of modify it,” said Lower. “(The informer) is a $225,000 repair, basically, to the system.
“The informer records every button pushed, every door opened, every watch tour and every function in the jail. So every time somebody does a jail check it records it. Now we have to do it as a backup on written paper. (The system) is not recording that. If an inmate pushed a button and wanted to talk to central on intercom, it recorded it. When central opened a door, it recorded it.”
The informer failed six months ago. The county has two options. The county found an authorized agent for the original company that installed the system, which has now gone out of business. He is the only one who can work on the proprietary system. The other option is to replace the whole system, which would cost about $800,000.
“So this is the lesser of two evils,” said Lower.
The failure of the informer has not caused any safety issues, said Lower, but, “We have no detailed record. When we have jail inspections, (the state) asks for (records of) random days. We’ve explained to them and they understand how difficult it is to get these things fixed. The last jail inspection (about two months ago) we still passed because we’re in process of trying to remedy the problem. We’ve showed them the estimates, and we did try to replace the computer. But the computer will not connect.”
Lower said it will take about four weeks to fix once the agent begins work. The components were ordered in July and work will start as soon as those arrive, said Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman. He said he held a special meeting to get the ball rolling, but the materials could take a while to get.
Tazewell County Administrator Wendy Ferrill said various revenues to the county are starting to falter such as the Retailers Public Safety Sales Tax, which helps fund the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department and the jail. The tax started in 2001 with revenues of $1,780,189. In 2016, the tax brought in $6,806,817.82. The county budgeted $6.8 million for this year, but revenues for this fiscal year are only at $4,412,981.12 currently. The fiscal year ends Nov. 30.
“Some years have been better than others,” said Ferrill. “We are looking at a decrease or flat this year (on the public safety sales tax), but I think it will be less than what we have budgeted.
“Under the new state budget the state will be charging 2 percent to collect the public safety tax. That could mean $225,000 less. And this is not the only area where we’re seeing decreases. We’re seeing a 10 percent reduction in the Personal Property Replacement Tax (from businesses). We continue to lose jobs, so income taxes go down. People are moving out of state and people are not shopping as much.”
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The jail needs additional upgrades, as do other buildings. Many of the items seem small for the county — garbage disposals, exhaust fans, sump pumps, a cooler condensing units, an ice machine, washers and dryers, dishwasher, parking lot paving and much more in the range of $2,500 to $70,000. Most of those items are at the jail. Of course, all of the items must be commercial grade.
And then, there are the big ticket items — Tazewell County Courthouse generator, $125,000; courthouse window replacement, $500,000; Tazewell Building Parking lot replacement, $150,000; Tazewell County Health Department upgrades, $150,000; jail rooftop air-conditioner, $159,640; McKenzie Building chiller, $175,000 — and the list goes on.
The county also has on the list upgrades to buildings — painting, exterior masonry, and grand jury chairs, among others.
In 2017, if the county does everything on the list for that year, the cost will be $385,390; 2018, an estimated $1,029,500; 2019, an estimated $1,453,500; and 2020, an estimated $1,926,000. The county is currently prioritizing the list to see what it can afford to do, said Ferrill.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrisPekin