What's next for the Vigo County jail project?

Vigo County commissioners will have to figure out what's next for the jail project.

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 6:06 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 6:38 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Vigo County commissioners will have to figure out what's next for the jail project.

The Terre Haute city council denied the county's rezoning request at a meeting Thursday night. The final vote was 8 to 1. Councilman Don Morris was the only yes vote.

County attorney Michael Wright says he presented an argument that should have convinced the city council to approve the rezoning request and says passion on both sides of the issue made an impact.

“Obviously that passion carried the day.”

Vigo County commissioners say they still think the former International Paper property is the best location for a new jail.

Commissioner Brad Anderson says he was not surprised by the city council's decision.

“City council decided they would rather not do it. That's their decision. It'll cost the taxpayers about a million dollars in costs if we have to purchase property so that was the one thing that we looked at is we didn't want to have to go buy property. They requested that we go buy a piece of property which will cost the tax payers more money."

The county has two options: find a new location or fight the city council decision in court.

Those alternatives will be laid out for Judge Jane Magnus Stinson in a report the county must file with her next week.

Wright says, "My job is just going to be articulating to the judge that while this decision was not what we had hoped for there are alternatives that are being explored and the county is still very serious about solving the problem of an overcrowded and understaffed jail."

It is unclear what the repercussions of the rezoning vote will be on the future of the jail project.

Wright says, "Nobody who’s being honest with you or themselves has any idea what the judge is going to do."

Anderson says, "She could say you got to close the jail down, you can only have so many people in there, you're over that… but the problem is we can't find enough places to send people so we'd be in trouble."

Commissioner Judy Anderson says the county will wait until after hearing back from the judge to decide which direction to go next.

Wright says, "The judge wants solutions and until there are some rock solid solutions she's not going to waver in her belief that there needs to be more progress made."

It is possible the commissioners could look for another jail location within the city limits and once again go before the city council for a rezoning or they could pick a place in the county where the commissioners would be the legislative body in charge of rezoning.

City leaders say they hope to close the divide with the county after the controversial vote.

Eight of nine city council members say there were simply too many negative factors when considering the county's rezoning petition. Many city leaders say they feel like the International Paper property on Prairieton Road could be better used for something else.

City Council President Curtis DeBaun says he was not convinced a jail would be the best use for the property so he voted against the rezoning. He says he hopes the commissioners will find another property within city limits.

"I really do hope that those who disagreed on this issue, we can come together. The public needs to work with the city and the city with the county. We're all in this together so we need to be part of that team."

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