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County lays out hopes for legislative session

– Jail overcrowding, building codes and a proposed Memorial Coliseum expansion were some of the issues Allen County officials outlined Tuesday when they met with state lawmakers to discuss the upcoming session.

Circuit Judge Thomas Felts asked lawmakers to delay the implementation of a criminal sentencing reform bill passed last year that is set to take effect July 1. The new law would result in overcrowding and financial strain in county jails, Felts said.

The new law would eliminate the criminal code of class A through D felonies and replace it with levels of 1 to 6.

“Level 5 and 6 (C and D felonies) would be housed locally instead of at the state level,” Felts said. The county is already at capacity for housing and programs, he said.

The legislation was meant to send low-level offenders back to county jails and their communities. But it has left many county officials scratching their heads, wondering how they will come up with the extra housing, staffing and funding.

If the shift occurs, the county must receive adequate funding from the state to extend local programs, such as Community Corrections, work release and mental health services, Felts said.

Other issues included:

•The state’s log cabin rule. The law states that when people build homes for their own occupancy, some rules of the building code do not apply. The state needs to clarify that log cabin rules apply to the building code only, not to septic systems or environmental law, said Mindy Waldron, department administrator for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.

“Some have illegal systems or no septic system, and our department oversees those cases,” she said.

The vagueness of the rule is responsible for numerous court cases, she said.

•Supporting the self-funding of the recorder’s office through the perpetuation fund, which comes from user fees.

This year, Allen County Recorder John McGauley said he no longer needed to use tax dollars to operate the office and would instead self-fund all salaries and operations. Surprisingly, he said, the Indiana State Board of Accounts did not like the idea and threatened to cite the local office, which McGauley said was “silly.”

McGauley is asking lawmakers to change state law so he can continue to self-fund his office and save taxpayer money.

•Memorial Coliseum is seeking a $12.4 million expansion of the Exposition Center in 2015, but for the Coliseum to pay for the project with a bond issue, the law designating it part of a Professional Sports, Convention and Development Area will need to be extended.

It expires in 2027 and must be extended to 2040, said Randy Brown, Coliseum general manager.

Under the law, sales and income taxes generated by the Coliseum and other nearby facilities are set aside for projects. The Coliseum currently receives about $2.6 million annually from the convention and development area, he said.

The extension must be approved by the state.