SHERIFF BRIAN BeGole spoke during the Owosso City Council meeting on Monday, April 1 in his continuing effort to better inform the citizens of Shiawassee County regarding the millage to construct a new county jail that will be on the May 7 ballot. The millage question asks voters to approve a 20-year millage at 1.64 mills, which, if levied in full, would generate an estimated $37,701,453 over 20 years. If the ballot question is approved, property owners would see an annual tax increase of $82 for homes with a state taxable valuation (not SEV) of $50,000, or $164 for homes with a state taxable valuation of $100,000.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Sheriff Brian BeGole has gone to great lengths to be transparent and forthcoming in the lead-up to the May 7 election, when county voters will decide the fate of a ballot proposal that would generate up to $37,701,453 to fund construction of a new county jail. He continues to enthusiastically share the findings of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) report and jail feasibility study that were conducted in 2018, both of which show that the Shiawassee County Jail is in need of massive updating or replacement; he has spoken at board, council and committee meetings all over the county and made himself available to residents on social media; and he has even opened up the jail for guided tours to anyone interested in seeing for themselves the decrepit facility, which opened in 1963.
The proposed jail would be located on county-owned property on N. Shiawassee Street (State Road) north of Corunna, on land that currently contains the county’s parole/probation/work release building. The new jail would be much larger, at 62,786 square feet compared to 26,000 square feet currently, and the capacity would increase from 132 beds to 224 beds.
Prior to presenting the ballot language to the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 6, Sheriff BeGole sat down with The Independent to explain the proposal and highlight some of the unique, forward-thinking programs that will be implemented if the ballot question is approved.
“When we did the jail feasibility study, it was to determine what the county will need over the next 20 to 30 years to meet its demands,” shared Sheriff BeGole. “The total cost of the new jail may seem high to some people, but do we think it will cost us $37 million for the new jail? No, but the last thing we want to do is have to come back and ask for more money.
“This cost includes the demolition of the current jail and the construction of the new jail, with soft construction costs such as soil erosion testing, and we have also factored in inflation, change orders, cost overruns and the increased cost of operating a bigger jail. We have budgeted on the high end to be safe. If it does not cost us the full amount to build the jail, then obviously we would not levy the full amount.”
The jail’s deteriorating conditions result in anywhere from 500 to 700 work orders a year, which cause routine safety issues for jail staff and inmates. The constant repairs require the county’s buildings and grounds department to spend approximately 60 percent of its available man hours correcting reoccurring issues in the jail. The MDOC’s 2018 report cited Shiawassee County for the jail’s unsafe, inhumane conditions, which create liability issues, along with the facility’s inadequate, outdated layout. The MDOC report concluded that a new jail is warranted.
The proposed jail would solve the issues of staff and inmate safety, and it would provide the jail staff with the space, tools and equipment necessary to rehabilitate inmates in preparation for their return to society.
“It is so important to have segregation,” explained Sheriff BeGole. “For one, it is important because you don’t want to mix inmates who have been sentenced with those just coming in. That is how drugs and illegal contraband can be exchanged. We also need segregation for different classifications of offenders. We’re supposed to keep minimum security and medium security inmates separate; we don’t have the ability to do that at all right now. That is one of the things we got cited for by the MDOC. It’s a liability.
“This jail will be unique in the fact that it will have things that we don’t have now, but are so important,” Sheriff BeGole continued. “Seventeen percent of inmates right now have some form of major mental disorder and they’re not getting the help they need. Through our partnership with Shiawassee Health & Wellness, we will have mental health workers to screen inmates as they come in, and the partnership will also include a therapist, a case coordinator and psychiatric consultations.
“On top of those who are dealing with mental conditions, 72 percent of our inmates have substance abuse problems. With a new jail and our partnership with Shiawassee Health & Wellness, we will be able to offer substance abuse classes and other things we can’t offer now. We can’t even offer a GED here right now, because we don’t have the space. Our main focus is on reducing recidivism, and the way we do that is by helping inmates improve themselves, whether that is through mental health services or improved educational opportunities.”
The feasibility study, MDOC physical plant evaluation and other related documents can be reviewed on the Shiawassee County website, at www.shiawassee.net/sheriff/shiawassee-county-jail/.
– Ballot Language –
Proposal to Levy a Millage to Construct, Equip, Operate, Maintain and Finance a New Jail in the County of Shiawassee, and Expand Correctional Programming
For the purpose of constructing, equipping, operating, maintaining and financing a new county jail, including payment of debt services on county obligations issued for such purposes, which would replace the existing facilities and will be more modern, efficient to staff, safer and humane; and including expanded programming for the treatment of substance use addictions, treatment of mental health and reduction of re-incarceration among arrested persons, shall the constitutional limitation upon the total amount of taxes which may be assessed in one (1) year upon all property with the county of Shiawassee be increased by up to 1.64 mills, $1.64 per thousand dollars of state tax valuation, for a period of 20 years (2019-2038 inclusive)?
If approved and levied in full, this new additional millage will raise an estimated $3,009,163 in the first calendar year of the levy, based on state taxable valuation.
As required by state law, a portion of the millage may be captured by the Downtown Development Authorities of the cities of Corunna, Durand, Laingsburg and Owosso, and the villages of Lennon, Morrice, New Lothrop and Vernon, and Perry Township, and the Brownfield Authorities of Owosso Township and the city of Owosso.