Kenton chooses jail site

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

INDEPENDENCE -- A new Kenton County Jail should be built at a former junkyard at Interstate 275 and Ky. 17, members of the outgoing Kenton Fiscal Court agreed Tuesday.

The resolution was unanimously approved nine months after county officials began looking at more than 40 potential jail sites, and 15 years after county leaders first acknowledged the need for a new jail.

In endorsing the site, the commissioners noted that it was found to be the best of three leading sites by a nationally recognized team of correctional consultants.

The four fiscal court members also recommended that their successors hold hearings early next year for public input on the site -- something the three commissioners-elect said they would support.

Opponents, mostly from Fort Wright and Edgewood, said they felt left out of the process after learning only late last week that 51 acres south of I-275 and east of Ky. 17 were under serious consideration and apparently had the backing of fiscal court.

Critics were quick to note that the decision is not binding. None of the current fiscal court members will be returning to office, and the resolution could be overturned by the newly elected fiscal court that takes office in January.

"I was disappointed that they went ahead and made a decision which basically carried no weight," said Edgewood Councilman Bill Spears, who was among the Edgewood and Fort Wright officials who spoke against the site Tuesday. "They should have just passed the baton to the new fiscal court."

But county officials said they saw their vote as taking a stand on a difficult issue that has plagued three different county administrations. "We are the first fiscal court in (nearly) 20 years who've been willing to address this issue and grasp this issue," said Judge-executive Rodney "Biz" Cain, adding he's "never been prouder of a group of people" than the current Kenton County commissioners.

Since he was sworn in last March, Mr. Cain has made selection of a site a priority.

In making the motion to endorse a jail site Tuesday, Commissioner Bernie Moorman, a 13-year fiscal court member, noted that the judge-executive must be the driving force behind a decision on a jail site.

However, since 1984, Kenton County leaders have taken the easy way out, when faced with resolving the problems of an overcrowded, inefficient jail, Mr. Moorman said.

"It is the judge-executive and his commitment to a project that make it work," Mr. Moorman said. "(Judge-executive James) Dressman pulled off the project in 1984. He expanded the (current) jail (in Covington) but it was very inefficient. (Former Judge-executive) Clyde Middletown pulled off the project in 1990 and 1996, but Biz Cain didn't pull off."

Advantages of the site include its central location in an industrial zone, access via I-275 and Madison Pike, and proximity to area police agencies and emergency services, county officials said.

Once the county moves to acquire a site, it will be at least 40 months before the 400-bed jail opens.

The consultants recommended that the facility be built large enough to accommodate 576 prisoners by the year 2010.

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