Macomb Co. officials show off aging jail amid talks over $375M ballot plan
Mount Clemens — County leaders showed off a section of the aging county jail Monday amid a push for a $375 million ballot measure that would fund a new complex.
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners is weighing the prospect, which, if approved, could go before county voters as early as November or by the presidential primary in August 2020, County Executive Mark Hackel said.
The county has spent at least $2 million to conduct two studies, most recently in 2015, on the jail. Both, he said, have concluded updates are needed and the longer officials wait, the more costly they'll be.
"We've got two studies now that put us on notice that 'you got to do something to fix this,'" Hackel told reporters Monday during a tour of a seven-person pod in the jail's D block.
Hackel on Monday expressed confidence that county commissioners will agree to put the "well-thought-out" millage plan before voters.
"I think they're there. Nobody disagrees it's the right plan, the right thing to do and it makes sense," he said. "Now, it's our job to educate the public on why this is important."
The ballot language recommends a 20-year, 0.98 millage for the project. Under the proposal, 0.78 mills would fund the $375 million jail and 0.20 mills would support associated operational and personnel costs.
The millage would cost the owner of a home with a cash value of $150,000 $73.50 per year. The money would be used to repay a bond issued by the county to pay for the jail project.
Commissioner Leon Drolet said he's skeptical of the millage proposal and puzzled over why it's double the cost of a 2017 plan to build new sections of the jail.
"The cost doubled from a $180 million to a $375 million proposal without adequate explanation as to why that cost ballooned so explosively in such a short period of time. I have an awful lot of questions," he said.
"I am very concerned about rushing to put this on the ballot. What's more important than when the tax proposal will appear on the ballot is making sure it's affordable and makes sense."
Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the project scope proposed a couple years back estimated it would cost $150 million to $175 million to renovate and repurpose the current facility. But as that consideration was being made, the building "started to crumble, literally."
"Tiles were falling off the ceilings," said Wickersham, adding it was determined the cost of building anew would be nearly the same as the extensive renovate work.
"We decided to in the direction of building a whole new facility."
Wickersham noted some parts of the jail were built in 1954. It's at capacity, understaffed and lacking in supervision, mental health and substance abuse beds and other services to adequately address inmate needs, he said.
Wickersham used the cell toured by media members Monday to illustrate the "indirect supervision" of the jail today. Officers come through the catwalk once an hour to do checks on inmates.
"Those doors are loud and they are heavy. The prisoners know when we're coming, they know when we're going,' he said. "If they want to do bad things, if they want to hurt themselves, they know the opportunity."
The current jail has 1,438 beds but is authorized to use 1,238, since 200 were taken offline due to budget cuts, Wickersham said.
The new facility would have 1,518 beds, he said.
The new jail would be built adjacent to the existing site located west of Elizabeth Road and south of Dunham in Mount Clemens.
Mental health and substance abuse are such an issue in the county, Hackel said, that he's planning to allocate another $2 million in his budget to the medical examiner's office for additional capacity at the morgue because "more people are dying" as a result.
A committee is expected to take up the resolution language on July 18, and if in agreement, it would go before the full board for approval on July 25, Wickersham said.
"What I really don't want to see is that somehow this just gets a receive and file. We've spent all this money, we've done all this hard work, we have these studies and nothing comes of it," Wickersham said.
"If there isn't something done, there's still going to be the problems here there's still going to be the issues."