Crawford County justices of the peace discussed costs, location and a choice of architects for a new jail during a committee meeting Monday night.
Crawford County Judge John Hall, Sheriff Ron Brown and eight JPs were on hand to discuss the jail issues at the jail committee meeting so that recommendations could be made during the quorum court meeting Jan. 20.
While the current jail can house up to 88 inmates, county officials are looking to build a new 260-bed jail. All JPs present at the meeting agreed they were in support of going forward with plans to build the jail and putting forward a tax proposal to pay for it.
In July, Crawford County Detention Center failed an inspection by a panel of Crawford County residents appointed by the state, and once again was put on probation.
The Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee cited the jail for, among other things, chronic overcrowding, under-staffing, improper inmate segregation and inadequate space. The jail has been on continuous probation since November 2011 for the same or related issues.
Costs for construction and operations of a new jail was the first topic under discussion Monday night.
Because of a “wagon wheel” design that county officials anticipate for the new jail, Brown told JPs that the new jail would be more secure and he would only need to hire about 13 additional deputies.
Brown anticipates that though the number of possible inmates would almost triple, operation costs would only be about twice what they are now - a total of $2.6 million per year for the new jail.
JP Lloyd Cole, who is head of the jail committee, said the maximum cost for the new jail - including acquiring the property for location, building the facility and equipping it - would be $20 million. He added that the actual costs could very well be several million less than that.
“We’re comfortable we won’t exceed $20 million,” Cole said. “When we tell the public this is the price, it won’t go up, up and up.”
Once cost was established, county officials tried to determine the best way to form the sales tax issue. Two separate issues - one for construction costs and another for ongoing operations - would need to be added to the ballot, Hall said.
Hall told JPs that to cover the costs of operations, they would need to ask for at least a quarter of a cent. For construction costs, they would need to decide if they wanted to ask for a full cent to pay off a bond issue in 5 years, or less, down to a quarter cent to pay off in 20 years.
JP Elaina Damante was concerned that the 20 year bond issue would outlive the jail, but Cole said not so.
“This jail is going to be expandable and we won’t have to worry about going through this kind of thing again,” Cole said.
Several JPs debated about what the county residents would be most likely to support, with many agreeing that a smaller bond issue with an extended sunset would be better received.
“From what I have heard, the least we can ask for is the most likely to pass,” Damante said.
JP Butch Barnes noted that any additional tax for residents would be difficult to pass.
“It’s no secret. We know we need a new jail, the public knows. Everyone in the county knows we need it,” Barnes said. “But getting that tax? It’s going to be tough.”
Barnes added that in spite of the difficulty of passing a tax, he feels county residents will recognize the need and support a new jail.
Also under discussion were the three architectural companies that met with Cole, Hall and Lloyd Dec. 11.
While the three said HMN Architects Inc., SouthBuild TEAM LLC and Cromwell were all good choices, the top picks seemed to be Cromwell and SouthBuild.
SouthBuild is known for building only jails, working solely with experts in the field. In addition, the company told Cole that they have never gone over budget on a project, he said.
They also offered to assist with notifying the public and a support campaign for the sales tax issue without upfront costs, Cole said.
Brown and several of the JPs preferred Cromwell, which uses mainly local workers and contractors.
“We’re looking at 3-4 years of jobs in Crawford County,” Brown said, not including the long-time jobs the new jail would bring.
“We need to spend as much of this money as possible within the two-county area … or this region, at least,” Hall said.
After hearing from JPs, Hall, Brown and Cole agreed to meet this week to decided on a recommendation to bring before the quorum court on Monday.
Finally, county officials discussed where the jail would be built. While Cole told JPs he had a location that he could bring forward Monday, Hall said he would be putting advertisements in the newspaper this and next week to call on property owners to offer their parcels.
Hall had recommended for all JPs to be on hand at Monday night’s meeting in order to put forward any questions or doubts they may have about building a new county jail and going forward with a vote on a sales tax to pay for it.
Present at the meeting were JPs Cleo Coatney, Shane Griffin, Cole, Cathy Gifford, Bill Grill, Mary Blount, Damante and Barnes.