$1.75B justice center could stretch budgets

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Mayor Greg Ballard's office has said the city intends to pay no more than about $50 million a year over 35 years for a proposed criminal justice facility, bringing the cost to about $1.75 billion.

The so-called “affordability payment" is the basic hurdle that bidders were asked to meet in order to land the deal to design, construct and maintain the center, combining the city's criminal courts and detention facilities.

Ballard's office announced Monday that it received proposals Friday from all three international teams that qualified to bid on the deal. The mayor's office intends to choose the best proposal by Dec. 23.

The affordability payment, which is also known as an availability payment, could be a budgetary stretch, said Bart Brown, chief financial officer and policy analyst for the City-County Council.

If the payments had to start today, the mayor's office believes the city could afford to pay $48.7 million per year, thanks in part to potential cost savings and new revenue sources. But the payment was set higher to reflect inflation between now and 2019, the first year a payment would be due under the 35-year contract, since city and county agencies historically have been forced to cover inflationary costs.

The projections don't leave much wiggle room.

Also Monday, the mayor's office was due to make public the request for proposals on the deal in its entirety. The mayor's office released most of the RFP to the public in October but withheld the city's basic financial requirements.

“The [request] also included the City's stated annual affordability limit of $50.047M, an important factor to ensure the project can be completed within the existing agencies' budgets,” the city stated in a press release.

Brown said the largest source of savings would be the end of a $19 million contract with CCA, which operates Jail II. The mayor's office has also assumed $10 million in personnel savings from the Marion County sheriff, based on a more efficient jail design requiring fewer deputies, he said. That means the sheriff will have to reduce his head count between now and 2019 – before the facility is available, he said.

In addition, the mayor's office assumed savings on rents that agencies pay at the City-County Building and other locations; personnel reductions in courts and county clerk's office, thanks to efficiciencies in electronic filing; transportation and inmate medical care. The new jail would include a medical facility, helping the county avoid payments to Eskenazi Health.

The mayor's office assumes two new sources of revenue for the city, Brown said. Visitor parking at the new center is projected to generate $3 million a year.

The administration also assumes that keeping prisoners under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service would generate $3 million to $5 million a year, Brown said. The sheriff currently has a contract with the marshal's service that pays $75 per inmate per day, but the mayor's office is assuming that would be worth $85 a day in 2019, Brown said.

Ballard continues to tout the deal as a way to build a new facility without a tax increase. “From day one, our plan for building a new, modern justice complex has required proposals that improve the safety and efficiency of our facilities, but without a tax increase," Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Adam Collins said in a prepared statement.

The council approved a hike in the public-safety income tax earlier this year that will benefit the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department as well as other criminal-justice agencies. The mayor's office has not stated any plan to keep the new tax revenue from going to the justice center payments.

The administration will evaluate the proposals with input from criminal justice stakeholders and a representative of the council. The chosen proposal will go to the Board of Public Safety for approval. The City-County Council will be asked to sign off on a 35-year agreement covering the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the facility.


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