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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Special election set for new Fulton County jail

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fulton County Quorum Court has set an October 11 special election to ask voters to approve a new jail on this property on Main Street, near Highway 395 in Salem. In a change of plan, the county now wants to tear down the old nursing home on the property (at rear of photo), because incorporating part of the building into the jail would be too costly.
At a special meeting on Tuesday, July 19, the Fulton County Quorum Court approved a plan to build a new jail, and set an October special election seeking voter approval of the plan.

Ordinance 2011-08 was approved in three consecutive readings by unanimous votes.

Under the ordinance, the county seeks to build a jail and law enforcement complex at a cost of $2,100,000. It will include cells, a visitation area, a communication center, a small courtroom and space for the Sheriff's office.

A $300,000 federal stimulus grant and a $1.7 million dollar USDA low interest loan will pay for the project.

At an October 11, 2011 special election, voters will be asked to approve the plan to pay back the loan.

Fulton County cities have agreed to give revenue they receive from a 1 cent sales tax, which was approved in 1989, to the county. County government will add that money to its share of the sales tax to meet jail loan payments.

"It's an existing tax. I don't know how to put it out any plainer. It's not a new tax. It's already on the books," Judge Charles Willett commented, after the construction plan and special election were set.

Before the vote, quorum court members and county officials discussed the unpleasant task of approving a new jail, at a time the county is having trouble operating on existing revenue.

"We don't have a choice, because they condemned the one (jail) we got," commented a Justice of the Peace.

"They condemned it, that's right and they will shut it down. That's done been told to us," Judge Willett replied.

Because the current jail is small, outdated and located in a basement, state inspectors are demanding progress toward a new jail, or they will order the present facility closed, forcing the county to pay other jails, which meet state standards, to house its prisoners.

"I just went with actual figures. I can't project (the whole year). I went from January to June," said Sheriff Buck Foley in distributing a chart showing the high cost of housing prisoners in Izard County, when the local jail becomes overcrowded.

The chart showed that, at $45 per day for males and $55 a day for females, Fulton County paid the Izard County Detention Facility $33,965 from January through June of 2011.

The county had budgeted $35,000 for the whole year, to house inmates in other jails. With a new jail with more beds, Foley said those costs would drop significantly.

If a new jail is not built and the existing jail is ordered closed, then all Fulton County inmates will have to be housed in other counties, at an estimated cost of more than $200,000 a year.

"It's kind of a Catch 22," said Willett. "Can we afford not to have a jail or can we afford to build it? If we don't, we're looking at $200-thousand something dollars, which will break the county for sure."

Some Justices of the Peace worried that using the one cent sales tax for the monthly jail payment would not leave the county with enough money to operate.

"This year and last year with county general (fund), it's been touch and go," said J-P Jack Haney. "If we're going to lose revenue out of county general to fund the jail, we're not assured any additional revenue coming in. I don't want to put county general in a bad situation because of the jail."

Judge Willett explained the county's monthly payment on the jail would be $7,191, or $84,000 a year.

Willett said making the payment would take sales tax money that currently goes to the county's road and general funds. He added, however, savings from not shipping inmates to Izard County, and expected state funds for housing state prisoners, would come close to replacing the lost sales tax funds.

Sheriff Foley said it would "be real tough" for him to operate the new jail at current staffing levels. He added, however, he expects to receive several state prison inmates who will work at the jail cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and maintaining department vehicles. The state will pay $15 a day for the county to house the inmates.

J-P Haney said the best financial solution would be to ask citizens to approve a new sales tax for a five to ten year period, to create new revenue to pay for the jail.

"I don't think we can pass any kind of new tax right now in the western part of the county," J-P Jim Bickers responded, and other justices agreed with him.

Because of a major change, justices were not able to see an updated diagram of the jail plan.

According to Judge Willett, the decision was made, after he and architects recently toured the jail site on Main Street, that incorporating the old nursing home on the property into the jail "would be a liability instead of an asset."

Originally, the jail plan included using the nursing home kitchen and laundry areas and leasing office space to private companies.

It is now believed putting sprinklers in, making other improvements and paying utility bills at the nursing home would be too costly.

"We just couldn't see how it would benefit, trying to save part of the building. It was just extra cost," said Willett. "Basically, it (the old nursing home) needs to be torn down."

Because of that decision, architects are redrawing how the jail will be placed on the Main Street property and making some minor changes to the kitchen and other areas of the planned jail.

After approving the jail plan and the special election, justices and county officials discussed the importance of informing citizens that no new tax money is being sought; voters will be approving the use of sales tax money already being collected, to meet jail payments.

If the plan is approved by the October 11 election, the county will seek bids on the jail, hoping to obtain rock-bottom bids, while using as many local contractors as possible.

"If we get good bids, it could conceivably cost less than projected," said County Attorney Dwayne Plumlee.

The county also hopes to cut costs by reducing the interest rate on its USDA loan. Judge Willett said, it is possible the "locked in" 4-percent interest rate could be lowered to 3.50 percent.

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