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Federal judge urges Allen County to fund jail bond payment

The proposed jail, designed by Elevatus Architecture, has yet to receive full funding by the Allen County Council.
Elevatus Architecture
The proposed jail, designed by Elevatus Architecture, has yet to receive bond funding by the Allen County Council.

U.S. District Judge Damon R. Leichty once again urged the Allen County Council to approve the necessary funding for construction of the new Allen County Jail to begin.

“Vote to finance the jail or invite in other action,” Leichty said.

The Allen County Council recently voted down $5.9 million that was meant to pay the county’s first bond payment to the Building Corporation, the nonprofit that incurs the county's debt on large projects that the county then pays off through yearly bond payments. County Councilman Paul Lagemann said labeling sparked confusion because a separate $3.2 million request to pay for preliminary jail work was labeled as a necessity.

“That threw everybody into confusion because the 5.9 is necessary,” Lagemann said. “The $3.2 (million) can come out of the existing ($)45 million that was encumbered and appropriated and available at any time to the commissioners.”

Lagemann said there have been discussions about those proposals since the vote and he believed the confusion has been cleared up. The council is scheduled to take up the vote again at its next meeting Wednesday 5:30 p.m.

The county’s bond counsel, Rick Hall, said at the status hearing Tuesday morning that this approval would only be a one-time thing because the money is being allocated outside of the budget approval process and without bonds being issued. Hall said the Allen County Commissioners can approve the bond payments each year after this year until the end of the construction lease automatically because the bonds will have been issued and the Allen County Council will have included the payments in the annual budget.

The Allen County Commissioners have said they need county council approval and the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) to approve the jail project before construction can begin. Officials said they expect DLGF approval by the end of February.

Commissioner Rich Beck said regardless of how those two things play out, the directive was clear.

“We really need to move forward irrespective of those things, but as they fall in place, they fall in place,” Beck said. “So, we continue to move forward.”

The council’s vote only went the way it did because one member flipped his vote. After approving the plan for the jail, Councilman Bob Armstrong voted no on the appropriation of the $5.9 million for the first bond payment. Lagemann said if Armstrong is not available to vote Wednesday, the vote would likely be postponed to a later date because the result would be a three to three tie, which would kill the measure.

Judge Leichty cannot legally order the county government to spend money, but he did order it to fix the unconstitutional conditions at the Allen County jail. County leaders agreed building a new jail would be the permanent solution.

So, Leichty has urged the Allen County Council and Allen County Commissioners to stay on that path, seeing any other ideas as delaying the permanent solution and forcing people to spend more time in an unconstitutional jail. The American Civil Liberties Union said in its status report that it was prepared to file a motion to start releasing prisoners from the jail if construction keeps getting delayed.

The Allen County Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday evening at 5:30.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.