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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Fulton County voters approve jail financing plan

Friday, November 18, 2011

(Photo)
Poll workers, Boyce Bassham, Gary and Janice Williams, delivered vote totals from Fulton County precincts to the courthouse on election night, Nov. 8. Photo by Richard Irby
The Nov. 8 vote to approve or reject a plan to pay for a new Fulton County Jail wasn't even close. But Sheriff Buck Foley admits he was on pins and needles until he received word that 72 percent of voters had given their approval.

"I think people got the message that the county would be in big financial trouble, if the jail was rejected," said Foley.

Foley had warned that, without voter approval of a new jail, the current jail would be closed by the state, after years of failing to meet minimum standards. Closure would mean a yearly expenditure of more than $200,000 to house Fulton County prisoners in other jails - an amount the county cannot afford.

The Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee was anxious to hear the election results.

"They called first thing (Nov. 9) wanting to know how the vote went," said Foley. "They were happy to hear it (the jail plan) passed. They said we can keep the old jail open, while we're building the new one."

The ballot question asked for voter approval to use 17.5 percent of an existing one-cent sales tax to meet monthly payments on a construction loan.

While some citizens insisted the county could not afford a $2 million jail, a large majority agreed it would be cheaper to build a modern, larger jail than pay more than $200,000 a year to other jails to keep our inmates.

Vote Totals

Only 16 percent of registered voters turned out to decide the issue.

The final vote was 779 for the jail finance plan, with just 271 voting against it.

The two precincts in Salem attracted the most voters, 22 percent, with 77 percent voting "for" the jail project.

The Afton and Cherokee Village precincts showed the greatest opposition. The Afton vote was 19 for and 18 against the jail proposal. The Cherokee Village vote was 46 for and 38 against.

"I expected a closer vote, so I'm thankful for the strong support we received," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett. "Now, we can get busy getting paperwork out of the way and moving toward construction."

Jail Construction Plan

Judge Willett is working to set up a meeting with Lee and Associates Architects, the county's bond attorney and USDA officials to determine a plan of action.

Besides land surveys, a title search and other legal requirements, architects must finish final drawings, so specifications can be written and the project can be advertised for bids.

The latest plan calls for a 24 bed jail, which will be designed to house female, as well as male prisoners. The project will also include space for Sheriff's Department offices, a communications center and a small courtroom

The jail will be built on land at the rear of the old nursing home on Main Street, next to the Preacher Roe ballpark. Part of the rear of the nursing home building will be torn down to clear space for the jail footprint. The front of the nursing home and the west wing will be saved, including kitchen and laundry areas, which will be used by the jail.

The estimated cost of the jail is $2,100,000. The county has received a $300,000 stimulus grant to use toward construction. The remainder of the cost will be covered by a low interest USDA loan.

While the cost estimate was done a couple of years ago, county officials are optimistic that, with contractors hungry for jobs, competitive bidding will keep bids at or below the estimated cost.

"We know a lot of contractors are interested and hope bids will come in $100,000 or $200,000 below the estimate," said Willett. "We are going to use county workers for demolition, dirt work and site preparation, so that will save some money."
While the Sheriff hopes to see dirt work underway in December, the Judge says it will probably be March before actual work begins. Willett believes the project can be completed within 12-months, if the weather cooperates.
The Sheriff is anxious to work with architects as the final drawings are made, regarding the jail lay out.
"I'm excited," said Foley. "This is something we have needed for a long time."

Interstate Highway

Ballot Issue

There was one other ballot question decided in the Nov. 8 election.

73% of Fulton County voters supported issuing up to $575 million in bonds to improve Arkansas interstates. Under the project, Arkansas will create jobs by improving more than 400-miles of its interstate highway system. The bonds will be paid back through the use of the state's share of federal highway dollars and diesel tax revenue. The project will be a continuation of an Interstate Rehabilitation Program passed by voters in 1999.

While the interstate improvement program received strong local support, no projects will take place in north central Arkansas, as the state's interstate system is to the south of our region.



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