(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - No matter what rules were established when Dearborn County’s riverboat savings fund was created 13 years ago, county council will use the money to help pay for a jail expansion.
Dearborn County Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to require only a majority vote to use the fund.
The county created a particular riverboat revenue fund for capital projects – named Capital Projects Long Term 197 - in 1998. County council then required a unanimous vote to use the savings, a measure each council since has stuck to.
According to Dearborn County Auditor Gayle Pennington, the fund contained nearly $15.7 million at the end of October. The money sitting in that account has enticed county officials who believe a jail expansion is needed.
The votes against the removing the unanimous vote requirement were Dennis Kraus, Dan Lansing, and Jim Hughes. Those council members and several people who spoke at the meeting wanted to see the issue go to a referendum so voters could decide.
“I think people are concerned we’re going to drain (the fund), which isn’t the case,” councilman Bill Ullrich told Eagle 99.3 Wednesday. “Up until now there hasn’t been a need to address it. This project has the magnitude for a change.”
Some of those opponents accused Ullrich, an employee of the Dearborn County Sheriff’s Department, of possessing a conflict of interest before he joined in the “aye” vote to require only a majority.
“A conflict of interest is defined as a financial interest in a vote… Whenever there has been anything voted on which would affect me financially I have recused myself,” he said, adding he abstained from a vote on a 2.5 percent raise for county employees during the same meeting Tuesday.
Councilman Bryan Messmore’s full-time job is as a victims advocate in the Dearborn County Prosecutor’s Office. He has also been accused of a conflict.
“I understand people’s concerns about conflicts of interest and there is fair discussion and fair conversation to be had,” Messmore said. “But, this jail decision is based on the numbers. We’re voting on what we know and what we’ve learned. What’s best for the county, the taxpayers, the sheriff’s office?”
Costs for the project which could add up to 150 new beds at the Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center are still fluctuating. The latest estimates given by Indianapolis-based engineering firm RQAW range between $8.4 million and $9.3 million.
While he remains open to funding options using any amount of riverboat savings, Messmore said it would be premature to make a decision until a cost figure can be finalized. The county must still hire a construction manager and could put the job out for bid again, he said.
Ullrich said he would like to see a reasonable amount of money taken from the riverboat fund to pay for the expansion with the remaining cost supported in bonds.
“I don’t think people realize we’ve done our homework on this. I think this is needed and if the voters don’t think so we’ll find out in the next election,” Ullrich said.
County council will next meet January 24, 2012.