Fulton County Jail committee agrees on financing, final layout

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Thursday, Aug. 11, the Fulton County Jail Committee met with members of the Quorum Court, the architects and representatives from the USDA -- Rural Development office to review revised plans for the jail project and talk about funding.

"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the financing for the new proposed jail," said architect Doug Lee, with Lee and Associates. "We are changing the scope somewhat, from what was originally applied for. Johnny James and Carolyn Woehl from USDA -- Rural Development asked that we all get together and discuss the particulars of the financing before the election, so we all know where all funds will be coming from and how they should be committed."

The original plan for the new jail called for using the commercial kitchen and laundry already in place in the nursing home, and remodeling to fit in a court room and county offices.

"That plan was not looking as viable as we initially thought, so we have moved ahead to redesign and put everything, all it's elements, under one roof - a commercial kitchen, commercial laundry, courtroom and four additional offices, all in one building with the jail facilities," said Lee. "This will obviously increase the budget. The original plan was approved and funded by Rural Development, but as we are increasing it, we need to look at the possibility of additional funds. You're probably talking another $350,000 to $400,000 dollars."

This was a surprising number to most of the assembled members of the committee.

"This is new to us today," said County Judge Charles Willett. "We had discussed the changes, but not a price."

Carolyn Woehl, with Rural Development, asked county attorney Dwayne Plumlee what percentage of the one percent sales tax was going to be committed to the project.

"We had, based on the numbers we were operating on, we had allocated 17.5 percent of the revenues from the existing one percent sales tax to this project for debt service," said Plumlee. "This proposal has to go to the people for a vote. We did schedule the election, but if we need new numbers, then we have to start over."

Woehl concurred, adding that if the county wanted to try to obtain the additional funds from Rural Development, they would indeed have to go back to square one.

Then Doug Lee asked if the existing loan could be amended, or if a new loan would be required.

"Rural Development has agreed to a $1.7 million loan and $300,000 in grant money to this project," said Woehl. "It would have to be an additional loan. The thing is, before it goes to the vote, if the 17.5 percent was going to cover this, and it was only going to cover $2.1 million, then we need to see where the coverage for the additional amount will come."

JP Jim Bicker noted that, if the county gets a better interest rate than the currently locked in four percent at the time of closing, the savings alone could cover the extra expense. But it was pointed out, that the closure of the loan won't happen until construction is underway, and, by then, the locked in four percent may beat the interest rate at that time.

"We may have to go back and relook at the old nursing home, and see if we can possibly make it work," said Willett. "I mean, $400,000 is a significant sum of money."

A large portion of the additional cost would come from adding the commercial laundry and kitchen to the jail building, something Sheriff Buck Foley said may not be needed.

"The laundry and the kitchen don't have to be commercial," said Foley. "We just need a six burner stove and our washers and dryers, for just 24 beds."

Johnny James with Rural Development reminded the committee that any change in loan amounts would require another financial feasibility study, which would take time.

Doug Lee asked if it would be possible to obtain additional funding through Rural Development this year.

"I would say not this fiscal year, not even this calendar year," said James. "We don't know anything yet about our 2012 budget."

"I don't think, personally, that we can get another $400,000," interjected Judge Willett. "When we had a meeting the other day, the nursing home looked like it might be a liability, but for $400,000, it's looking like an asset to me. We are going to have extra utilities on the old building, we may need to sprinkle, there will need to be remodeling. But, I don't want to have to wait another year."

The discussion then moved to the bid process and the possibility that, due to the project going through a public bid process, the bid could come back cheaper than the expected $2.1 million.

But, Architect Herman Lee reminded the group that you have to have financing in place first, before you can bid a project.

So, they moved on to the nursing home and what would be required for it, focusing on whether sprinkler systems would be required.

"The jail itself is already figured to be sprinkled, it has to be," said Herman Lee. "But it depends on what the distance is between the jail building and the nursing home if we have to sprinkle the nursing home. We would probably not have to sprinkle the existing nursing home, as long as we can keep the link between the building long enough."

Doug Lee then added, "Code wise, if there is enough separation or distance between the two buildings, then we won't have to sprinkle the nursing home. We need to make sure we have enough room back there on the property to back up from the nursing home to meet that distance requirement."

With that issue solved, JP Jimmy Mahler asked what would need to be done to the old nursing home to get it up to code.

"We need to put in heat and air, windows, insulation," said Judge Willett.

JP Bicker then spoke up and expressed what ultimately became the ruling sentiment.

"There are so many variables right now, my opinion is that we stay with the original plan," said Bicker.

All others agreed.

"I think we can make it work; we need to make it work," said Judge Willett.

The special election for voters to approve or disapprove the use of the existing one percent sales tax to fund the jail is scheduled for the 11th of October.

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