Proposed justice center moves to full council as questions loom about funding

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 8, 2015)-- Let the council decide. That's the latest word on the plan for Marion County's proposed $1.7 billion dollar criminal justice center. A special board empaneled to review the 35-year deal approved passing it on to the City-County Council at a meeting on Wednesday night.

Still, the justice center faces opposition and an uncertain future as councillors will be tasked with figuring out if the city can pay for the plan.

If approved by the council, the city would be on the hook for payments of roughly $47 million a year for more than three decades.

"Especially in the first four years, there are shortfalls. But there continue to be shortfalls out into the future," said Kathy Davis, a board appointee, and the lone no-vote.

Davis believes the funding just doesn't line up and isn't feasible.

"You told us that we would pay for it without any new revenue, and now we're starting to see that's not true," said Bart Brown, City-County Council CFO.

A study the council commissioned projected a $37 million shortfall in the first decade. At issue are savings that remain in question, like reductions to the sheriff's budget or reductions in emergency room charges at Eskenazi Hospital, Brown said.

The mayor's office sticks by their numbers, says the project will pay for itself, and over the next three decades produce savings by replacing old, outdated facilities in need of repair.

"Our numbers have been put out over the last two years with a great number of stakeholder involvement," said Adam Collins, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, "We feel very comfortable that if the stakeholders are putting their names behind these savings, that they're going to be very achievable."

Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett is not backing the justice center plan, releasing a statement Wednesday, which read in part:

"I want to be clear that my unwillingness to endorse this particular proposal does not dampen my optimism that we can and should develop an appropriate facility financed in a more fiscally sound manner."

Republican mayoral candidate Chuck Brewer backs the center and is skeptical of the council's analysis of the finances, saying in part:

"The current proposal will save taxpayers millions of dollars. It appears that my opponent is basing his position on a flawed report done by a firm that does not specialize in this type of financial analysis."

"What we're gonna do is not get into name calling. We're gonna focus on the facts," said Brown.

Ultimately councillors know they and the city's next mayor will have to deal with whatever happens.

"We're now to April. And the elections are five months away, and this is basically going to fall as a responsibility on the doorstep of the next mayor," said Mary Moriarty Adams, District 17 Councillor.

Mayor Greg Ballard responded Wednesday to Hogsett's call for a delay, in a statement which read in part:

"Our taxpayers and our criminal justice agencies deserve better than a delay that would be far more expensive, just for the sake of politics. It`s time to move this project forward."

The justice center will be back before a council committee on April 14th. If it passes, it could be in front of the full council by April 20th.