MIAMI — While the closing of the county jail in Miami after an electrical fire has created ongoing headaches for county officials here, it is possible that the incident may be the catalyst needed to move the city and county forward in related areas.
Miami city manager Dean Kruithof, city attorney Ben Loring and Miami Police Department chief Thomas Anderson, presented ideas for a plan to create a new public safety center for the county Monday at the regular meeting of the Ottawa County commissioners.
At issue is the possibility of forming a central dispatch center in Miami to coordinate police, fire, ambulance and emergency management dispatches and efforts.
Since the fire at the jail displaced some sheriff’s office employees, their dispatchers have been working some hours at the police department and say it has created communication improvements and faster response times.
Ottawa County Sheriff Jeremy Floyd has already approved four of his employees to work in the MPD dispatch center permanently.
Kruithof said the new center would most likely be paid for by a property tax bond issue for which the debt could go out for as long as 25 years. While he has been reaching out to the commissioners and others, Kruithof said the holdup is the jail.
“If we went to the public with the idea for a new safety center now, it probably wouldn’t be well received because of all the issues at the jail,” Kruithof said. “I want to work with the commissioners to get the jail fixed. Then we will get the structure and outline for the new center prepared.
“I am working with Ben Loring, but we need questions answered about the jail,” Kruithof said.
District 3 commissioner Russell Earls said he has reached out to Delaware and Craig counties and they are interested in the new center.
“Of course we would have to figure out where to locate it, but the main concern right now is how and where to house our inmates,” Earls said.
Kruithof said the center would have to be within a certain distance from each entity, and that it’s possible it could end up being more than one facility and location. “We want to put everything on the table.”
The initial idea for a public safety center (that would also possibly house municipal court) brought suggestions of locating it on property at 20th St. SW in Miami on the other side of the Neosho River.
“That would be a great location and it could also be used as an emergency staging area in the event of tornadoes and flooding,” Kruithof said.
“I have also talked to the Inter -Tribal Council and they may bring some money to the table. We want to be sure the city is handling its responsibilities to the county.”
Earls noted that if a committee is formed to study the idea of a new public safety center the county commissioners should have a presence on the board.
Kruithof said he wants to bring in all entities — including Northeastern Oklahoma A&M — for discussion, studies and planning.
District 1 commissioner Mike Furnas said there is a need for action.
“This is an excellent opportunity, but it’s a process. We have to keep hammering it out and do what’s best for the people and public safety,” he said.
Kruithof said they already have an architect on board who feels the concept should work well.
“Now we have to put pencil to paper.”
In an update on the closed jail here, officials are still waiting on bids to repair or replace the roof in addition to bids to repair or replace the jail’s fire suppression system and the control panel that is back in action, but still not up to par.
According to county officials, the system is stabilized but still has issues.
Getting the jail reopened as soon as possible is a priority for everyone involved, especially in light of the expenses being incurred for housing inmates that were evacuated from the jail here to the Tulsa County jail.
While the prisoner count is down to 51 prisoners from almost 100 on Oct. 19, at a cost of $69 per inmate per day being charged by Tulsa County, the expenses are mounting alarmingly.
Earls said Monday that he is in the process of renegotiating the fee with Tulsa in the hopes that will make the unexpected expenses (no longer covered by insurance) more palatable.
In other matters, the commissioners approved a request to solicit bids for janitorial services and ballot printing.
Bids will be opened Dec. 23 at 9:05 a.m. or after; a five-year road and bridge plan for the county was also approved.