There are a number of reasons, the most critical of which is that the existing facility has outlived it’s useful life and is no longer safe for staff or inmates the cost to maintain is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars. 

  • Disrepair: Most of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are original to the 1968 and 1988 construction and are obsolete, not functioning, inefficient, and require replacement. Plumbing piping original to the construction is leaking and would require selective demolition to access.  In some areas raw sewage is leaking from pipes into the building creating unsanitary conditions.  A recent energy study performed by Honeywell estimates mechanical and electrical repairs to cost between $4.5 – $5.6 million exclusive of architectural and structural upgrades.  Detention systems are in a similar state of disrepair being in constant operation for 54 years.  Parts for door and bar grate locking systems are no longer available and have to be custom made or found from other jail facilities that have undergone replacement.  According to Oceana County Sheriff’s Office during the April 28, 2022, commissioner meeting, the failure of one door lock costs taxpayers $15,000 to fix.  Spending money to replace these systems will not make the facility compliant with regulatory requirements or address the present safety concerns.       
  • Non compliance: The sheriff’s office and jail facility is the most regulated building in the county and the current facility is significantly out of compliance with governing standards. While non-compliance is not grounds for shutting down the facility, it does expose the county to the liability of lawsuits that can, have, and will be costly to tax payers.  For example, the Michigan Department of Corrections evaluates facilities based on 23 different criteria and the current facility is marginally to completely non-compliant in 14 of these criteria due to the limitations of the existing facility design.  This information comes from the masterplan study performed by Byce and Associates and does not take into account current building codes, ADA requirements, and other standards governing the facility. 
  • Safety: The Oceana County Sheriff’s Office has a constitutional obligation to provide minimum safety and well-being standards for inmates AND staff. The current facility lacks available space and accommodations to provide for this level of safety.  For instance, the current facility lacks the available space to separate inmates that can be dangerous to house together resulting in incidents of violence between inmates that should not share housing space.  Additionally, the current jail design makes it impossible for corrections officers to maintain direct visual observation of inmates challenging the officer’s ability to respond to incidents in a timely manner.  The current facility has antique bar grate cell doors that are operated using a manual gear system.  These are problematic because reaction time is significantly slower, forcing multiple officers to respond to an incident and putting officers at risk of being grabbed or subjected to bodily fluids through the bar grating.  Another concerning issue with the current facility is the presence of porcelain plumbing fixtures with exposed piping.  Oceana County Officers have been endangered by inmates who have threatened to shatter these plumbing fixtures and use the broken shards to harm officers. 
  • Asbestos: The current facility was constructed when the use of asbestos was prevalent. At a minimum there is asbestos pipe insulation and floor tile throughout the facility.  The use of asbestos was discontinued in the 1990s.  This complicates any renovation or maintenance on existing systems and puts county maintenance, staff, and inmates at risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.    
  • Overcrowding: The current jail facility has operated at or above capacity for several years. This creates an inability for the county to fill outstanding warranty and forces early emergency release, reduced sentencing, and inability to properly sentence convicted criminals.  Projections in inmate population needs in the county show a dire need for increased space over the next 20 years to meet the needs of the community.
  • Space & Operational Limitations:
    • Programming: The existing jail lacks any ability to provide programming services to inmates such as drug and alcohol abuse, recidivism prevention, education, religious services, or recreation. In short, inmates spend almost 24 hours a day locked in their cells without any opportunity for the Sheriff’s Office to provide services that would prepare them for reentry into society and provide anything close to rehabilitation.  Modern facilities have spaces for these types of programs. 
    • Mental Health: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 2 in 5 people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness. Since the State of Michigan closed most of its mental health and psychiatric treatment facilities, many of these individuals have ended up in the jail system.  The current facility was built prior to the closing of these facilities and is not constructed to safely house these types of individuals and has only group housing preventing individuals with mental health episodes from being separated from others.  The current bar grating presents risks for self-harm and does not meet guidelines for suicide-resistant design in correctional facilities.  Additionally, the facility does not allow for constant supervision of inmates where this is required.

Medical: The current facility only has 88 square feet of space available for medical examinations.  This is smaller than most residential bathrooms and drastically reduces the level of service available and constitutionally required to be provided.

Plain and simple, the current facility is at end of life and the situation is desperate.  Jail facilities age exponentially compared to other buildings where occupants leave at night and systems can be shut off or reduced.  The current level of disrepair is a ticking time bomb that forces us to assume liability due to the imminent failure of systems.  The repair, operational and maintenance costs currently exceed the costs to operate a new facility and citizens of Oceana County need to recognize the fiscal responsibility of funding a new sheriff’s office and jail.

The process of planning for a new jail started when the county engaged Honeywell as a consultant to do an energy study to assess the possibility of doing an overhaul on obsolete, inoperative, and inefficient mechanical and electrical systems.  Honeywell’s findings were that the county would have to spend $4.5-$5.6 million to replace these systems.  Subsequently, the Board of Commissioners authorized the Sheriff’s Department to investigate the costs and feasibility of updating or replacing the jail and sheriff’s office.  Oceana County engaged the team of Byce & Associates and Securitecture who performed a masterplan and feasibility study.  This process involved performing a facility audit of the existing jail and sheriff’s office to determine the practicality of modifying it to meet the county’s needs through a combination of renovations, and additions as well as building a new facility.  As part of this study, the team held a full day meeting with 28 members of the community and industry professionals to discuss findings and how a new facility could be designed and constructed.  This committee included members of the Michigan Department of Corrections, MMRMA (which provides the county’s risk management), commissioners, former corrections officers, sheriff’s office staff, county commissioners, the drain commissioner, local police, judges, and citizens of Oceana County.  This committee agreed unanimously that it is not practical to modify the existing facility and that the only way to meet the needs of our sheriff’s office is to build a new facility.  The findings and recommendation from this committee were presented at a special meeting of the county commissioners held on May 5, 2022 where members of the public were invited to comment on the project prior to putting the proposed project on the ballot.  At this meeting, the County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to place this proposal on the ballot in August.    

The proposal that is on the August ballot is for a 47,000 SF jail and sheriff’s office complex that will have an inmate capacity of 144.  The professionals who put together the masterplan performed several different projection models based on historical data such as average bookings per day, length of stay, average daily population, county population models, sheriff’s office staffing plans, as well as statistics on age, gender, and classification needs and staffing needs of the facility.  These models were developed with the goal of forecasting space needs for the foreseeable future.  Additionally, the committee evaluated facility needs compared to other similarly sized counties in Michigan.  The average sized jail in Michigan is 3.5 beds per thousand occupants and the current facility only has 2.53 beds per thousand.  In summary, the proposed facility is based firmly on statistics and investigation to ensure that it will meet the needs of the sheriff’s office throughout its useful life while being responsible with taxpayer dollars.   

Modifying the existing facility is not an option for several reasons but most important is the cost of renovation.  As stated previously, the costs just to keep the building operational as-is will be $4.5 – $5.6 million and this does not address regulatory compliance, staff efficiency, projected growth in population, accessibility, or staff and inmate safety.  In order to meet the needs of the sheriff’s office and comply with current law enforcement regulations the building would have to be completely gutted.  Additionally, the size of the existing facility is too small for the projected growth and there is no room on the current site for the expansion needed since the current jail and sheriff’s office is pinched between the court building and the site property lines.  Additionally, for this renovation and addition to take place inmates and staff would need to be housed somewhere else.  Even if space were available, the county would spend at least $3 million just to house inmates at adjacent counties during the project duration.  Additional costs of transportation, medical, and operational costs would further increase this expense.

As already mentioned, the current state of building systems is at a crossroads where something needs to be done to avoid a catastrophic building failure that will force the county to take emergency action and incur expensive repair costs.  County officials recognize that repairs at the current facility are a temporary band aid and a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Besides the issues with building systems, the current facility presents significant liability risks.  The inability to comply with regulatory standards puts the county as risk of lawsuits.  Taxpayers need to decide if they want their taxes to be used to fight lawsuits or provide for community safety and the time for action is now.

Oceana County Sheriff’s Office needs some holding cells adjacent to the court for inmates awaiting court appointments.  The sheriff’s office recently renovated two cells that would remain to serve this need under the current program.  Additionally, the courts have a need for storage space which can be achieved using a small portion of the existing facility.  The rest of the facility may be demolished but ultimately is the decision of the County Board of Commissioners. 

A location for the new law enforcement complex has not yet been finalized as land acquisition would be required (the county does not own property suitable for this project).  It is a State of Michigan constitution requirement that the sheriff’s office be in the county seat, so a site in the city of Hart is required.  A suitable site off N. Oceana Dr. by the intersection with Polk Rd. has been identified and acquisition efforts would need to be preceded by approval of the millage.  Most of the suitable property is currently owned by the City of Hart and preliminary discussions have indicated that a potential property swap or other cash free deal would likely be negotiated. 

What has been completed to date is a highly conceptual building layout that evaluates operational adjacencies and approximate square footages.  If the millage is successful, Oceana County will undergo a competitive bid process to hire an architectural firm that will design the building and the site.  There are some critical elements of the building that will be part of the design no matter who does this work.  For instance, the housing wing will be a pinwheel layout that has a central control room with pie shaped dayrooms radiating out from the control room.  This is the most economical floor plan to build and staff because it allows one officer to maintain direct visual observation of all inmates in a housing wing.   Besides this general layout and maintaining operational adjacencies, other design decisions will be cost driven to ensure that project costs prioritize safety, function and longevity over any kind of aesthetic aspects.  This is not going to be “plush” living conditions for inmates.  The focus will be on a design that is going to withstand the abuse that this type of facility will endure 24/7 and will be inexpensive to maintain.

If the August millage is approved, Oceana County will immediately work to onboard a designer and construction firm.  Design activities are expected to take 9 months to complete and construction is expected to take 17 months.  Given these durations, Oceana County would expect to be fully operational at the new complex by January, 2025.

Besides addressing all of the regulatory compliance deficiencies, programming restrictions, and special needs discussed already, there are several notable differences in the new facility:

  • Technology: The current facility is severely antiquated in the types of systems in use. For instance, cell doors are operated by keys or a manual crank that operates a series of chains and gears.  The new facility will have an integrated security electronics system that integrates electrified door locks, cameras, lighting controls, and intercoms all operated via a computer remotely.  Existing plumbing fixtures are porcelain fixtures like you would find in a school.  The new facility will have a water management system that will allow officers to limit water usage and remotely shut-off plumbing fixtures for both compliance and to reduce utility costs.  These systems improve staff efficiency, utility consumption costs, and increase safety, visibility, and reliability.
  • Maintainability: One of the biggest issues with the current facility is the inability to maintain building systems. The new facility will be built with a focus on ease of maintenance using routes that keep maintenance staff out of inmate areas as much as possible such as rear chases behind cells that can be accessed without having to go through the jail.  Mechanical systems will be controlled using a building management system (BMS) that will allow county facilities to make adjustments and get alarms from home and any maintenance parts can be obtained through readily available supplies.    
  • Expandability: While every effort has been made to size the facility for the future, there will be unforeseen circumstances that affect the needs of a jail such as legislation changes. Unlike the current facility that is hemmed in on it’s site, the proposed facility will be designed with room for expansion in the future should the needs change.
  • Efficiency: Where operations of the existing facility have been developed to deal with limitations present, the new facility will be designed to promote efficiency in operations. Operational adjacencies will limit travel and enhance communication.  Inmate movement will be minimized saving time and avoiding the opportunity for issues. 
  • Rehabilitation: Space for programming and opportunity for inmates to spend their time productively will yield results in recidivism and a reduction in violence.

The existing jail and sheriff’s office is 22,053 SF and has an inmate capacity of 66.  The proposed facility will be 46,990 SF (an increase of 24,937 SF) and an inmate capacity of 144 (an increase of 78 beds)

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections the current jail is already understaffed by 3 employees.  This millage will allow the sheriff’s office to providing the funding necessary to adequately staff the facility.  Besides these 3 additional staff members currently needed, the staffing plan for the new facility will have the same number of positions per shift as the current facility.

Yes, the current design allows for the addition of another housing pod should one be required at a later date.

Yes, somewhat.  The State of Michigan Department of Corrections has minimum construction standards that must be met.  These standards dictate construction and design details of detention areas of the facility such as acceptable materials, rebar spacing, ventilation requirements, etc.  These standards also dictate sight and sound separation requirements between genders and many similar minimum requirements that must be met.  Additionally, the DOC will review written operations procedures that Oceana County Sheriff’s Office will need to submit for review and approval.

It is possible that the facility will have capacity to house inmates for other counties.  This is not uncommon for a facility to lease bed space to other counties or the federal government on a cost-per-day basis.  A couple adjacent counties currently have these agreement in place, however, there is not currently an agreement in place for our county and the goal is to satisfy Oceana County’s needs first.  Projected growth statistics show the need for the requested bed space over the next 40 years, however, between now and then this is a possibility.  The advantage would be that proceeds from leased bed space could reduce the amount funded by taxpayers and be used to pay off loans for construction.

Unfortunately this is not a possibility.  First and foremost, doing so would require an amendment to the State Constitution that requires each county sheriff to operate a jail within their county.  Secondly, even if this were permitted, surrounding counties already maintain jail facilities and do not have the same urgency that Oceana County has.  For instance, Muskegon County just built a new jail in 2012.  Newaygo County built an addition to their facility in 2010 and leases bed space to the US government.  Mason county recently built an addition and does not have the same overcrowding that Oceana County has.

Construction costs are estimated to cost between $29.7 – $34.9 million.  Operations costs are expected to be between $4.9 – $5.0 million per year.  The current average operational budget is $4.5 million per year.

The proposed tax levy is for 2.25 mills which equates to $2.25 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.  This means that a property with a taxable value of $100,000 will pay $225 per year or $18.75 per month.  It should be noted that taxable values fluctuate over time and it is possible that if taxable values increase, The Oceana County Board of Commissioners could levy less than the full 2.25 mills.  Other recently approved millages have been reduced, such as the Medical Care Facility millage which decreased from 2.50 mills to 2.00 mills, and the debt services millage for the Medical Care Facility, which decreased from .50 mills to .20 mills (note that this debt services millage expires after 2022).  Additionally, the County Board has reduced the ambulance millage from 1.00 mills to .90 mills. 

Jail construction is more costly than schools, churches, and office buildings.  This is largely due to the specialized systems required to resist abuse, provide safety to staff and inmates, and prevent escape.  For instance, typical costs for office building construction is approximately $350/SF where similar sized jail construction costs are $650/SF.  There are hundreds of examples of why this is true, but some specific examples of specialized systems that make up this cost difference include:

  • Plumbing fixtures are constructed entirely of stainless steel which is resistant to rusting, vandalism, and eliminates ligature points that could be used for self-harm. These fixtures are approximately four times the cost of a standard commercial plumbing fixture. 
  • Detention glazing that is essential for visual observation is tested for an attack rating to ensure that it cannot be broken for escape or to create weapons. Security glass can cost as much as $150/SF of glass area. 
  • Masonry is more expensive than metal stud and drywall construction but is essential for detaining inmates. Additionally, jail walls are required by the State of Michigan Department of Corrections construction standards to be grouted solid with stringent security rebar requirements.  There is an approximate cost premium of approximately $10/SF of wall area associated with the need for grout and rebar to meet the security standards. 
  • Detention specific doors and door hardware is significantly more expensive than a standard commercial grade door for obvious reasons. A typical commercial door costs approximately $2,500 where a security grade door costs approximately $10,000.
  • Security electronics systems that control the door locks, view and record cameras, allow for audio communication, and control lights and power receptacles throughout the jail wing of the building is essential to the operation of a modern jail facility, but these systems add cost. A typical security electronics system will cost $13 – $17 per gross square foot of building space.   

Smoke control systems are required in jail facilities per the Michigan Building Code.  A smoke control system consists of fans that respond to a fire in the building.  Because inmates are not able to freely evacuate a building, a system for containing fire and smoke to an area while inmates can be relocated or evacuated is required, but these systems add cost that other types of construction wouldn’t require.

No, operations costs will increase an estimated $400,000 – $500,000 above the average annual operations budget and the increased operations costs are part of the requested millage.  Most of the increase in operational costs is attributed to the increased inmate population (medical, food, and inmate supplies).  Once the millage has been paid off, operational expenses will revert back to the general fund, by which time the county will have operational costs for the Sheriff’s Department budgeted based on 20 years of data.  It should be noted that the new facility will create a more manageable budget through things such as life cycle analysis on major systems, a reduction in unscheduled emergency maintenance, and development or a predictable staffing plan. 

Yes, all the above listed items will be part of the operational expenses.  Other items that are expected to be part of the additional operational expenses include the K9 program (which currently doesn’t have a budget and is sustained purely through donations), church programs, educational opportunities, and mental health programs.

The bond is to fund, furnish and operate the facility.  The new facility will have new all new technology as part of a modern facility.  As technology evolves over time upgrades will need to be funded from the general fund as it is done now across the county.

A detailed estimate breakdown of the project costs was included in the masterplan study published and presented as part of the full Board meeting packet from the special May 5, 2022 meeting.  Construction costs were estimated to be between $25.2 – $29.6 million and Owner soft costs (design, furniture, utility fees, property acquisition, etc.) are anticipated to cost between $4.5 – 5.2 million.

It is possible that the project is done for less than the estimated costs.  Cost estimates at this level of detail have been figured based on average costs for recently completed similar facilities.  Additionally, the estimate includes a range to account for conditions both controllable and uncontrollable.  An instance of a controllable condition would be selection of finishes, while an uncontrollable condition would be external market conditions.  It is true however, that this project can never be built for less than it will cost today.  Despite being in the midst of unprecedented inflation and escalation, there have only been two notable incidents of negative inflation in history.  Rather, it is the rate of increase that is unprecedented.  On average, construction costs inflate at a rate of approximately 2.5% per year.  We are currently seeing construction costs inflate at a rate of 1.5% per month.  This doesn’t mean that costs will go down if we wait, just that costs will be increasing at a rate that is more predictable.  As an example, at a normal rate of inflation, the cost to deliver this project would increase over $800,000 if we waited a year.  Now at the current rate of inflation, the cost to deliver this project increases more than $481,000 every month.  Speed to construction is critical to ensuring that the current budget is feasible.  

Federal and State assistance is not available for the construction of new law enforcement facilities.  It is possible that grant funding can be sought and obtained for specific elements of the project.  For instance, grant funding may be available for systems like generators, video court systems, radio repeater systems, etc.  Additionally, there are incentive programs like energy rebates for demonstrated reductions in energy consumption through utility companies.  These types of grants and rebates will be sought by Oceana County, however, these are not substantial funding sources. 

Oceana County Sheriff’s Office currently does assess inmate housing fees in the sum of $25/day, however, inmates are typically already burdened by court fees and fines associated with their crimes and the collection percentage is pretty low and many of these costs get sent to collections.  Money that is received from inmates currently goes towards operations and will continue to do so. 

The consultant that was hired by Oceana County to perform the masterplan study necessary to vet options, project needs, and evaluate the existing facility has cost $24,000. 

Yes, Oceana County intends to engage a construction firm in a Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) capacity.  If the ballot proposal is approved by voters, the County will issue a Request for Qualifications, create a short list of qualified firms and then make a final selection after receiving cost proposals and performing interviews.  This process is mandated by Oceana County Purchasing requirements.  Additionally, if funding is secured through a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural development low interest loan, this process will be mandated and overseen by the USDA.  This process is intended to select the firm that provides the best value to Oceana County.  The CMR will be responsible for delivering the project under a guaranteed maximum price and a contractually fixed schedule. 

 Yes.  Oceana County Purchasing requirements dictate that all bid opportunities need to be publicly posted.  Additionally, Oceana County will work with the selected Construction Manager to identify target participation goals by both firms with offices in Oceana County as well as utilizing employees who reside in communities surrounding the project.

As of June 1, 2022 Oceana County’s total bond indebtedness is $583,600 and is .004% of the allowable limit.  Additionally, all bond indebtedness will be paid off by November, 2023