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Fulton County Jail forced to make major changes

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fulton County Quorum Court awaits cost estimates for the necessary improvements to the Fulton County Jail. Fulton County administrators must make a move toward improvement of the system if they wish to continue to house inmates.

On Monday, Aug. 31, Fulton County Judge Charles Willet was in the process of approval to move the quorum court meeting up to Sept. 8 to discuss three options for getting the Fulton County Jail up to snuff: option one, improving upon the existing jail; option two, renovating the nursing home building in Salem; option three, building a new jail.

Willett met with Southbuild, a jail construction company that specializes in jail construction, from Memphis, Tenn., on Aug. 17. The company is in the process of tallying cost estimates. Once the figures are in, an educated decision can be made by the court as to the best course of action, Willett said.

If the court opts to renovate the old nursing home building, they intend to apply for a $50,000 grant to help offset the costs.

"We would require that local people do our work," Willett said at the Aug. 10 quorum meeting. "As long as we're moving ahead, they won't shut us down. As long as the process has begun, they'll allow us to keep operating."

Bringing the county jail into compliance was the main item on the agenda for the Quorum Court. When inspectors came to tour the building Aug. 6, the county was housing 13 to 14 inmates in seven cells.

"As far as the cleanliness and overall inspection of it, that was fine," said Willett. "We're just not in compliance with current standards."

Compliance has apparently been an issue for some time. "From what I understand this has been going on for over 20 years, but it's always been slid back on the back burner. Now, we have to get into compliance or they will shut down our jail," Willett said. "If they shut the jail down, we're looking at between $350,000 to $500,000 a year to house prisoners out. That's $65 plus a day; right now we're averaging about 14 prisoners day."

In other business, the court received a lease offer on the old health building previously leased by David Kauffman. The building was vacated Aug. 21. Kaufman paid $800 per month.

LHC Home Health, who purchased Fulton County Hospital's home health agency, was approved to lease the building for $750 per month. The lease will be guaranteed for two years with the first and last month's rent paid upfront. Willett's wife and daughter are employed by LHC, which lead Willett to obstain from participating in any quorum decision to lease the building to the company.

LHC, also known as North Arkansas Home Care, is located in the Chamber House by the fairgrounds.

The quorum also took care of some monthly appropriations. The Tri-County Recycling grant was appropriated for $2,668.50. The Fulton County Hospital excess sales tax, set aside each month to cover hospital operations and maintenance, was appropriated for $14,091.57. Funds of $7,980 raised for the sports complex were appropriated for the complex's groundwork. The quorum approved a sponsorship of a $3,611.47 grant for the upgrade of Fulton County Fairgrounds concession stands and other amenities, at no cost to the county.



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