Millage proposal for new jail could be on August ballot.

April 28, 2022

Bret Dodd of Securitecture discusses the new jail concept with the commissioners and Sheriff Craig Mast.

Millage proposal for new jail could be on August ballot.

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By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The Oceana County Board of Commissioners heard from experts about the urgent need to replace the aging and overcrowding Oceana County Jail during a five-hour regular meeting Thursday, April 28.

In response, the board voted unanimously to have a special meeting to discuss possible millage language next Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m. in the Oceana County Services Building located at 844 S. Griswold St. Oceana County Commissioner Martha Meyette suggested the meeting take place during the evening hours and at the larger venue, so the board can hear public input.

It’s likely that a millage proposal to build a new jail and sheriff’s office will appear on the August primary ballot.

The county jail is over 50 years old and is in serious need of replacement, Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast and Corrections Division Lt. Mark Schneider stressed in a previous interview with OCP. Related story here:

Upgrading the current jail built in 1967 would cost at least $4-6 million. 

Sheriff Mast and commissioners Paul Erickson and Ron Christians.

Experts from Securitecture, an Indiana-based corrections, justice and public safety consulting firm, agree that the jail needs to be replaced. They compiled a 380-page report over the last several weeks and provided a PowerPoint presentation Tuesday that identifies the current jail’s deficiencies and plans and costs for building a new facility.

“Your jail is a product of a bygone era and no longer accommodates the mission it has to serve today,” said Joseph Mrak of Securitecture. “That’s the big picture. It just doesn’t work. It’s wholly inadequate.” 

Granger Construction Senior Project Manager Todd Butler quoted prices for building a new jail. It would cost $28 million to $33 million to build a 120-bed facility and $29.7 million to $34.8 million to construct a 144-bed facility. A 20-bed juvenile facility on site would cost $6.8 to $7.8 million.

Bret Dodd of Securitecture said the sheriff’s office and jail’s 41-member team may need to add about three more deputies to staff the new facility. “We would double the size of the jail, but the increase in staffing is miniscule.”

Officials are eyeing a 10-acre site on North Oceana Drive in the City of Hart to build the new jail. Hart Mayor Vicki Platt said said there is a potential for a “land swap” with the county, so the property could be acquired at no cost. “Either there will be a really good deal or a swap,” Platt said.

If the proposal successfully meets voter approval in August, construction would begin in July of 2023, said Oceana County Administrator Robert Sobie. Construction is expected to take 20 months, and the new facility would be occupied by December of 2024. 

Robert Walker, chairman of the county board, noted that the county can lease space to nearby counties to house inmates and juveniles, which will offset the costs.

“Sixty six is our capacity, and right now we’re at 62,” said Sheriff Mast of the overcrowding situation looming on the horizon. “I could fill it up tomorrow.”

“We have one shot, and we’re going to live with this building for a long time,” said Commissioner Tim Beggs. “A larger facility is a good move, and the time is right. There is a big need.”

Renovating the current facility would be like “putting lipstick on a pig,” said Commissioner Craig Hardy. “I am in favor of (building a new jail).”

The current jail consistently fails annual Michigan Department of Corrections inspections, said Mast. “We’re accepting liability by not building a new jail.”

Commissioner Phil Morse said he’s in favor of a new jail and a juvenile detention center, noting that the county will receive income by leasing space to other counties to house juvenile offenders and inmates.

A millage increase of 2.5 mills would cover the cost to build a new jail and sheriff’s office, said Administrator Sobie. “My recommendation is to hold a special meeting and consider the August primary.” Ultimately, the net increase is 1.75 mills due to the cost offsets, he added.

“This is the biggest project Oceana County has seen of a public nature,” said Sheriff Mast.

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