Four years and one month after McClain County voters killed a sales tax increase that would have paid for a new courthouse, the county will seek their approval of a $23.75 million bond issue to build a new county detention and public safety center.

The special election will be November 12.

The bond proposal comes after more than a year’s work by a volunteer committee of local municipal leaders, citizens and public safety personnel.

The 50,606-square-foot center will be located on county-owned land northwest of Purcell on State Highway 74 and will house the sheriff’s department, jail, emergency management and 911 call center.

Putting those under one roof will enable McClain County to be able to deliver public safety services more efficiently and effectively.

McClain County Commission Chairman Wilson Lyles said the committee worked with commissioners and Architects in Partnership, a Norman firm, to ensure the new center will serve the county for decades.

Lyles also chaired the citizen committee.

“All three of your commissioners wanted to hear all points of view in order to make certain  we used our limited resources to best serve the citizens for at least 30 years,” he said. “After hours of discussion and deliberation in the committee, the commissioners’ meetings every Monday morning and with architects, engineers, legal counsel and financial advisors, we decided to try to accommodate as many needs as possible.”

The biggest request wasn’t about the bricks and mortar. It came from the cities that depend on sales tax to realize their long range goals.

“In order to be a good neighbor we agreed that we would honor the  cities’ biggest request and would ask the citizens to approve this project using general obligation bonds instead of revenue bonds.”

That means the $23.75 million bond issue will be repaid over 30 years not by increased sales taxes, but by not more than a 5-mil annual assessment on real property. That cost to owners will be between $2.50 and $4 per month per $100,000 home value.

“We are asking the citizens to help us meet our critical need for this facility and to support our financing compromise,” Lyles said.

The new jail in the state-of-the-art facility will house up to 220 inmates. The current jail has just 53 beds and the daily census over nearly two years has topped 100 prisoners.

To deal with the overcrowding, Sheriff Don Hewett has contracted with other counties to house the overflow and avoid fines imposed by Oklahoma State Department of Health inspectors.

“Our overcrowding could cost us $1 million this year alone in rental of extra bed space in our neighboring counties,” Hewett said. “Conditions in such an overcrowded jail are dangerous. We cannot ask our friends and neighbors to continue to work in such an unsafe and overcrowded environment.

“All of county government has cooperated with us. We are so fortunate to have judges, a district attorney and members of the defense bar who are willing to adjust their schedules around our needs. But it is not something we can do forever.”

The new jail and  sheriff’s offices will occupy 40,924 square feet. The remaining 9,672 square feet will be designated for emergency management and 911.

This will be the first time the county has been able to have all of its 911 services under one roof.

“Having all of the public safety functions in one location is going to enable us to communicate more often and more effectively,” said Ron Johnson, emergency management director.

Mike Clifton, 911 coordinator for the county, expressed excitement at the prospect of “bringing our dispatch center into a county facility close to the county’s other public safety departments.”

Commissioners Glen Murray and Terry Daniel share Lyles’ opinion that using general obligation bonds is far from ideal. Still they and Lyles believe the citizens understand the critical need for the new facility.

“We sincerely believe that the citizens, especially the municipal leadership, appreciate the county’s effort to compromise in order to help everyone,” Murray said. 

“We looked at all kinds of options, all kinds of designs and all kinds of financing,” Daniel added, “and we believe our citizens committee helped create a good project that is in the best interests of everyone in the county. We hope the voters will appreciate everyone’s hard work and support this initiative.”

Drawings of the proposed facility will be on display at the courthouse, as well as at various community meetings.

For additional information or to request a presentation, contact Hewett at 405-527-2141 or any county commissioner at 405-527-3117.

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