Police Chief David Bailey told the Thayer Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, Dec. 14, the facility's 12-capacity jail registered 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the front office area that afternoon.
"There's just no way to get more heat back there," Bailey said of the four cells on the back of the metal building on Front Street. Last year, the city spent several hundred dollars on furnace work without much improvement, he said.
The board unanimously approved getting estimates to add a heater and move the evidence locker to an upstairs storage area, freeing up room to build another cell.
Bailey is now questioning why the city does not do more than simply renovating the current facility. He said the city needs a new police station.
As Thayer has been collecting voter-approved sales tax the past 14 months for law enforcement, Bailey said the city should set aside some of the money to build a jail.
Sixty percent of Thayer voters (285 yes to 190 no) in April 2009 approved the half-cent tax for "law enforcement purposes, including without limitation improvements of building, purchases and maintenance of equipment, uniforms and supplies of all sorts and operations of the police department."
At the same time, voters approved another half-cent sales tax to upgrade the city's wastewater system.
Since the city began receiving the law enforcement funds from the state in October 2009, it netted $242,737, which so far has gone for police training, safety gear, handheld radios, weapons, a surveillance camera and five new patrol vehicles. Two more vehicles are set to be replaced.
Government grants also contributed money toward some of the purchases.
Bailey said Wednesday, Dec. 22, he would like to see at least part of the income saved for a new police station.
After voters approved the tax, the city reduced the police department's budget by 11 percent, keeping the money in general revenue. Financial figures were unavailable at press time.
Bailey said the current building, shared with the fire department, is too small and outdated. Besides an inefficient heating system, designed before the building was remodeled years ago, the facility does not have enough jail or administrative space, he said.
One multi-purpose room is used for interviews, inmate visitation, employee breaks and inmate meal preparation. A chest-style freezer, storage cabinets and a large table fill the room.
Without a kitchen, inmate meals are frozen dinners heated in a microwave oven. While meeting state requirements for nutrition and calories, the meals are costly, Bailey said.
Because contraband could be smuggled to inmates during inmate visits, a guard must stand at the door, creating stress on family during personal conversations, Bailey said.
A front office with three desks and a small table is shared by six officers and a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper.
The attached sally port holds one vehicle and some supplies. Aldermen approved revamping the storage room above the garage to hold evidence, which Bailey expects to have completed in a few months.
Bailey said his greatest concern, however, is with the jail. The four cells have beds for 12, although sometimes inmates must be separated. The jail has no inmate recreation area.
"Once they are in here, the only time they get out is when they go to court," Bailey said.
Prisoners hemmed up in an 8- by 8-foot area for 30 to 40 days at a time generally get agitated, Bailey said.
"Somebody is always needing something," he said, adding that the confined area creates more work for jail staff.
Last April, when a resident voiced concerns at a city board meeting about the police department spending $17,000 on supplies, Bailey said he had other plans for the money.
"I wanted to build a new police station with the sales tax money, but that's been tabled for now by the council, so we're moving on to other things," Bailey said at that meeting.
Bailey campaigned for the sales tax along with Alderman Mike Harber and former Mayor Merle Williams.
Bailey estimates a moderate-sized, modern jail would cost at least $1 million.
"I think it would be real easy to set aside $20,000 to $50,000 a year for that," Bailey said. In 15 to 20 years, the city could begin planning the new facility.
"This was a good building when it was built, but it is not going to last forever," Bailey said.
Inmate housing costs
Oregon County has a total of 20 beds for inmates, with eight at the courthouse in Alton and 12 beds in Thayer.
Oregon County spent $28,589 in 2010 to house inmates in other jails. Most of that money went to Thayer, although the county also sent some prisoners to the Howell County jail in West Plains.
If a prisoner is sent to a state penitentiary, the state reimburses the local entity $20 for each day spent in the local jail. The court may also order an inmate to reimburse some costs.
"We've looked for a grant to build a new jail, but it's just not out there," Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Leo Warren said. "If it was, everybody would be applying for it."
The city of Alton does not have a jail. Last year, the city spent $1,360 for inmate housing. Of that, $1,000 was reimbursed and returned to general revenue.
After adding cells about 10 years ago, the Howell County jail now has 56 beds and charges $40 daily to hold inmates from other jurisdictions.
Shannon County has beds for 14 inmates and charges $40 daily, as does Thayer.
Ripley County does not have a jail. The county contracts with the city of Doniphan to house prisoners for $27 or Butler County for $30 daily.
"It's a pretty good deal," Ripley County Sheriff Ron Barnett said of not having a county jail. Besides not be required to feed prisoners, the county does not need additional staff for jail administration, he said.
The Doniphan jail has 20 beds and charges $9 per meal, or $27 daily.