Jasper County Board last week approved a floor plan design for the new County Jail with an estimated cost of more than $3 million, but there are options for scaling back to save money.

Shannon Woodard of Connor & Connor Engineers explained to board members the design now covers 12,824 square feet and includes 32 inmate beds, an increase of six from the current total. He said the design has an approximate cost for budgeting of $3.3 to $3.5 million, depending on variables on work availability, seasonal scheduling and contractor competition. Woodard said it is possible to “start big but then scale back” on the plans with savings from minimal concessions. The new jail will be built on the site of the old jail that will be demolished.

Woodard said value engineering could cut the costs, but it would not save money to start with a smaller floor plan and then try to expand it as the project moves forward. He emphasized the actual costs of the new jail will be determined by the bidding process.

Board member Gary Michl -- one of several members engaged in the May 14 board meeting through a Zoom electronic connection due to COVID-19 requirements on social distancing -- questioned the need for increasing the number of inmate beds. Woodard noted many Jasper County Jail prisoners are sent out to other facilities. This can prove costly especially with juveniles – totaling $250 per day. There are also complications with separating female prisoners from male inmates. Woodard said Sheriff Brandon Francis did not rule out the possibility of cutting back on inmate beds. The jail now averages about 15 to 20 inmates.

Two other board members expressed concerns on the estimated price tag. Darrel Hickox supported downsizing the floor plan to cut costs. Brian Leffler asked about having a cushion on the project to enable paying employees in coming months.

Jasper County Treasurer Clinton Bigard earlier in the meeting offered the following figures on the jail project financing. Law Enforcement Center Funding with a $2.8-million building could borrow $500,000 and be charged a 2 percent cost and renew annually on a 5-year repayment. With a $3.3-million building, the county could borrow $1 million for payment on an 8-year debt schedule. If the County pays $2.3 million in cash, there will be two years of payments if the construction project takes more than a year to complete.

After discussing other issues on the jail, the board voted on the floor plan that had also been discussed during an earlier Jail Design committee meeting. Voting in favor last Thursday were Board Chairman Ron Heltsley, Ben Bollman, Mike Hall, Danny Kerner, Doug Warfel, A.C. Pickens, Ron Swick and Doug Weddell. Opposed were Leffler, Michl, Hickox and Angela Fehrenbacher.

Jasper County Coroner Jason Meyer requested a salary increase of $7,000, but several county board members considered it more of a stipend than a pay raise.

Meyer, speaking to the board through Zoom, said the increase would be comparable to what other county elected officials had received in past years. He claimed his position was not part-time as some claim.

“No matter what time the phone rings I have to go to work as Coroner,” said Meyer, comparing his duties to some other elected officials.

Warfel said the Coroner salary is $18,000 with additional cost with benefits of $62,000. He said raising the salary from $18,000 to $25,000 will cost the county an additional $20,000. He also noted that $6,000 is statute-only requirement for counties with comparable population. Warfel added other part-time government employees do not receive more pay simply because they are on-call. Meyer claimed he was being penalized by not receiving an equitable salary increase comparable to other elected officials.

A motion was offered for Coroner salary allowing $500 per year over four years to increase the salary total to $20,000. That motion passed on a roll call vote with Bollman, Fehrenbacher, Hall, Warfel, Hickox, Pickens, Swick and Weddell voting yes, and Heltsley, Leffler, Hickox and Kerner opposed.

The Finance Committee met on May 11 where Jasper County Treasurer Clinton Bigard spoke about a single-phase audit and let Ann Marie of the Kemper CPA, the auditing firm, explain the need. Normally, Kemper does fieldwork in December and January, but this year Jasper County has more than $750,000 in federal expenses, so a single audit must be completed. To comply, 40 percent of the federal funds must be audited. With COVID-19 precautions in place and the auditors will try to do as much as possible from their home office, but will come to on site if needed, Marie explained.

The expense of the audit needs to come out of the audit fund. It has been more than three years since a single audit has been needed. The audit is supposed to be completed by May 30, but since a single audit needs completed, an extension request will be filed. So, the funds will not be stopped. The cost of a single audit will be an additional $5,000 out of the audit funds, and the audit will take an extra week or two of work.

Bigard gave a report on the General Fund income and expenses. The numbers run two months behind so county officials will not see the effects of the COVID-19 until July. The County received checks from the state on cannabis sales totaling $1,000 for the last two months – these are from the recreational marijuana sales elsewhere across the state that started in January and have continued through state-licenses dispensaries through the coronavirus business shutdown.

The Treasurer mentioned ongoing work on Public Assistance Funding for COVID-19 expenses between the Health Department and the Ambulance Department, they have accrued $50,000 so far in labor and materials. The money would go back to the departments and the county would try to collect the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and county portion of expenses. Property tax season is running behind. Bigard suggested a possible tax committee could be created.

Effingham County Clerk Amy Tarr spoke on the proposed computer server replacement at the county building. It has been suggested a 1-TB hard drive would cost of $792. Tarr will go back to SDS Computer and confirm the life of the new hard drive and the security for the hard drive.

Several repairs and equipment needs for County structures and property were considered during the Building Committee meeting on May 7, including a proposal for improving the appearance of the memorial cannon on the Courthouse Square. The Ambulance Committee on May 6 reviewed expenses for an ultraviolet lamp for more efficient sanitizing of ambulance units for COVID-19 or other health risks. A grant will pay for half of the $3,995 cost of the UV lamp. Coronavirus precautions have also added to supply purchases for the Ambulance Service, totaling $9,125.

In other business, the board approved appointing Mike Murbarger, Galen Mendenhall, and Larry Dorn as trustees of Wade Community Fire Protection District for 3-year terms. The vote was unanimous. Ron Helmink was appointed to a 2-year term on the Farmland Review Committee with all board members in favor. All board members agreed to reappointing Bruce Elliott as trustee for the Montrose Fire Protection District for a term that will extend for three years.

Fehrenbacher expressed a heartfelt sympathy to everyone who have lost individuals to the virus and for everyone who has been doing everything from staying home to making masks to employees who are continuing to work. Board members were reminded to turn in vouchers to the Clerk’s office.

The board also approved county claims before adjourning. The next Jasper County Board regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on June 11 in the County Building meeting room. Chairman Heltsley said he hoped that meeting would not be one on Zoom if COVID-19 precautions are reduced by that time.