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$3.35 million jail improvement request tabled

The Harrison County Council Monday night, June 25, unanimously agreed to table Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye’s request of more than $3.35 million for jail improvements and a new evidence facility.
It marked the first time the council had heard the request so it came as no surprise to Seelye that the request was tabled until the council’s next meeting on July 9.
Councilmembers, specifically chair Gary Davis and vice chair Phil Smith, asked Seelye and RQAW representative Joe Mrak a number of questions regarding the project.
The jail, which is 17 years old, needs to undergo several maintenance projects. Exterior and interior caulking, glazing and repair and replacement of sealant throughout the facility need to be completed. Re-coating of shower walls and floors are also necessary because water is leaking through the walls and into inmate sleeping areas. Stainless steel shower units in all inmate areas also need to be replaced due to abuse.
Seelye said the jail was ‘gigged’ for a third time recently when it failed an inspection because of the leaking issues.
While the jail cell showers are being replaced, Seelye said a number of the inmates will have to be transferred to surrounding counties at a cost of $38 per inmate per day, for approximately $800 a day. The cost is not built into the project, Seelye said.
‘I started coming to these meetings a long time ago, and one of you, I think it was Gordon (Pendleton), always asked if a request was a need or a want,’ Seelye said. ‘I can assure you we’ll have litigation in the future if we don’t fix the jail.’
The camera and DVR system needs to be updated as well. Seelye said the camera system is the department’s biggest liability.
The DVR system is outdated. Seelye said he would like to use a hard drive, only accessible to an outside agency, that could store up to six months of video at a time. The current cameras only record two to four frames per second, leaving the opportunity for something to happen during one of those down moments and not be captured.
As for the evidence building, Seelye said it does contain some ‘wants,’ not just ‘needs,’ but he said he’s looking to the future and trying to make the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. the best it can be.
‘In sheriff’s training, where they tell you everything you need to know about being a sheriff in one week, they tell you not to undertake any big projects in your first term,’ Seelye, who is in his second year of office, said. ‘I’m trying to be a forward-looker to fix this for down the road.’
Features of the proposed 10,900-square-foot evidence building include a laboratory, storage area, two automobile bays, one large vehicle bay, a storage mezzanine, gun, drug and cash storage, motion detectors, closed circuit TV cameras for security and an office for a potential part-time evidence technician (Seelye said savings in the jail cook line would pay for the new employee).
Seelye said he hoped the new facility would attract Indiana State Police officers to Harrison County to conduct their investigations.
He said the storage space is definitely something that is needed. An interrogation room is already being used as storage and the department has a rented POD facility for more storage use.
Mrak explained further the need for the jail repairs and said jails age in dog years because of the constant use and wear and tear on the infrastructure.
‘It is a 24-hour operation,’ he said.
The cooling tower on the property is one aspect of the project that could have been maintained better to lengthen the life of the tower, Mrak said, after being questioned by Smith.
Mrak said the chemicals were not maintained properly in previous years and the tower should have a life span of 20 to 25 years.
Seelye finished his presentation by saying the request lies solely on his shoulders, not the county commissioners.
‘I asked for this type of building,’ he said.
Davis, Smith and Councilman Jim Heitkemper discussed storage options in the downtown courthouse, old jail facility or new government center complex.
‘If we didn’t have all this riverboat money, what would you do?’ Davis asked.
Seelye said he understood, but he’s concerned about what will fix the jail and what will make the department the best in the state; not what is best politically.
When asked by Smith, Mrak said the county will not owe him or RQAW anything if the council decides not to pursue the project.
In other business, the council approved $15,000 for fire department training for the county’s fire chiefs’ association. The training will include leadership or command training, grain bin rescue and rescues from electric or hybrid vehicles training.
The council will have a joint meeting with the commissioners Monday at 1 p.m. for county office budget hearings and will also have a joint meeting July 18 with the Harrison County Hospital Board of Trustees at 7 p.m. at the Parvin Baumgart room at HCH.