New Law Enforcement Center
In February of 2021, Osage County Sheriff Chris Wells began taking the initial steps to replace the current Osage County Sheriff’s Office and corrections facility without putting a burden on taxpayers.
Until 2006, the Osage County Sheriff’s Office and corrections facility were housed in the same building located at 702 Ash St in Lyndon. The corrections facility is still located at this address. The Sheriff’s office consisted of one workstation for deputies and a very small room for two dispatchers. As the Sheriff’s office continued to grow, additional space was needed to give deputy workspaces, additional dispatching stations, an investigation area, and additional evidence and file storage.
In 2005 it was determined that a new facility would need to be purchased or built. The decision was made to purchase an abandoned nursing home that had been built in 1964. The building was in a serious state of disrepair, but despite the condition, the purchase was made to acquire the land to construct a new Osage County Sheriff’s Office. The old nursing home required a new roof to be built to be inhabitable. Many of the additional repairs that would have been needed to sustain the facility for long-term use were not completed as the goal was to move forward with a new facility.
In 2006, once the roof construction was complete and temporary repairs were in place, the Osage County Sheriff’s Office moved into its current facility. Over the next 17 years, the building that had not been properly repaired continued to deteriorate and became a health hazard to the employees of Osage County that worked in the facility. The current Sheriff’s office suffers from mold, bad floors, unsecured/overflowing evidence, and file rooms, a communications center that is unsecured and not tornado/crisis protected, a roof that leaks, plumbing and electrical that is inadequate, and much more.
The current corrections building was built in 1985 as a 25-bed facility. It has been modified a few times to accommodate additional beds. The building suffers from foundation issues and shifts in the floors and walls. When this happens, the doors are unable to be closed, rendering the rooms affected useless. This shifting of the foundation is also causing water intrusion and mold. This building also has run out of storage and filing space.
The two facilities that currently house the Osage County Sheriff’s Office and the corrections facility are the biggest liability to the county. The task of finding a solution that would address the conditions of the two buildings that continued to deteriorate while trying to avoid being a tax burden to the citizens of Osage County was of utmost priority.
A 35-person community board was organized in the early spring of 2021 to get the public’s feedback on the current facilities and how to address the issues. The community board unanimously agreed that the current facilities were beyond repair, and a new facility would be needed. They were presented with two plans to consider and given information on how those plans would affect the taxpayers of Osage County.
The first plan for consideration was a 77-bed facility that required a 3/4 cent sales tax increase, as well as a property tax increase. The second proposed plan was a 144-bed facility that would be revenue based. That option wouldn't increase taxes. The revenue created by housing inmates at 85% capacity would pay for the facility expenses each year and create an estimated $1.4 million in revenue to the county annually.
The community board unanimously chose the second plan. This option included a 122-bed correction facility with 24 additional beds ready to install as the county chose to expand the new facility. It also addressed the unsecure communications center, would preserve the integrity of evidence, added an ambulance bay to a central location in the county, and many other issues including creating a healthy and mold-free environment. This plan also included a 16-bed mental health facility.
There were many extensive and in-depth conversations about how this new facility would impact the citizens of Osage County. During this time, the Osage County Board of County Commissioners determined that it would behoove the initial construction and financial aspect of the new facility to propose a ballot measure that would allow for a ½ cent sales increase over a 4-year period that would automatically sunset. This would allow some additional funding to be available throughout the construction phase and into the completion phase as the facility built up capacity.
Throughout 2021, several community presentations were held throughout the county with the public in open forum meetings. There were many extensive and in-depth conversations about how this new facility and sunsetting sales tax would impact the citizens of Osage County. By and large, the feedback from the citizens of Osage County who attended the informational meetings agreed that the second plan of building a revenue-generating facility was the appropriate decision.
In February of 2022, Osage County voters voted for a 4-year 1/2 cent sales tax increase to get the project started and operating successfully.
The design for the Osage County Law Enforcement Center has gone through several changes. The continued rising price of building materials, along with supply and transportation issues, brought the original two-story design of the center substantially over the projected budget. By the end of 2022, a new plan that incorporated all the proposed elements from the original design, including the Osage County Sheriff’s Office and the communications center, a 120-bed correction facility with room for expansion, 16 mental health beds and mental health services, and an ambulance bay into a single-story facility that works better at servicing the needs of the facility than initially proposed plans.
On April 17th, 2023, Osage County held the official groundbreaking for the new Law Enforcement Center.