More than a year ahead of schedule, jail and courthouse addition are now paid off

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Switzerland County governmental officials have announced that the loan that the county obtained for the construction of the new jail and addition to the county courthouse has been paid off.

The debt was not scheduled to be paid off until January of 2009, but Switzerland County Council president Mike Jones said that at the council’s last meeting, the members voted to go ahead and pay the debt off early.

“We felt that it was the financially wise thing to do,” Mike Jones said. “Paying it off early saved some interest on the bonds. The money was available and we’ve always operated on a pay as we go basis, so it made sense to pay everything off now.”

County commissioner Brian Morton said that it is significant to recognize that the entire building project has been completed and paid for without using any taxpayer funds. All of the money came from riverboat revenue sharing funds that come to the county from Belterra Casino Resort and Spa.

“When we first started talking about building on to the courthouse and building a new jail, we told the community that we wouldn’t use tax dollars to build it, and we didn’t,” Brian Morton said. “This was something that we had planned for, and now it’s all paid off using the riverboat funds, and we are proud of that.”

“I don’t think anybody would say that it was a project that wasn’t needed,” Mike Jones said. “And now it’s done and has been paid for without using any tax dollars.”

County auditor Rachel Bladen said that the initial project cost was approximately $7.3 million for both buildings, but that good planning brought that figure down significantly before the county borrowed the money to pay off the balance.

Former auditor J.C. Ramsey developed a plan along with the commissioners and the council to begin to set aside riverboat revenues when Belterra opened in 2001. Although the state did not allow county’s to have a “rainy day fund” at that time, a “county fund” was established here for capital projects, and 10-percent of the county’s share of the riverboat revenues went into that fund beginning with the very first check.

After J.C. Ramsey unexpectedly passed away, his wife, Janice Ramsey, fulfilled her husband’s term in the auditor’s office, and continued to work with the commissioners and the council on setting funds aside with an eye on building a new jail and expanding the courthouse.

Those funds became even more important when the Indiana Legislature capped the amount of money that Switzerland County could receive from riverboat revenue sharing during the 2003 legislative session. Although the amount of money coming into the county was capped, good planning by county government lessened that blow and kept projects on schedule.

All of that preparatory work meant that by the time the project was completed, the county only had to borrow $2.325 million to finish paying off the debt – having saved nearly $5 million earlier.

Construction started on both projects in August of 2004; and everything was completed in September of 2005.

“It hasn’t been open two years and it’s already paid for,” Mike Jones said. “We’re very proud of that.”