The Fayette County Farm Bureau held a public forum Monday night to discuss the new county jail levy that will be on the May 7 election ballot.
There are two parts to the levy. The first part is to construct a new and updated adult detention facility. The second part is to provide financial support for the operational expenses of the adult detention facility (this includes the cost of staff and medical providers). The jail is proposed to be built near the landfill on Robinson Road.
Speakers at the forum — held at the Center for Economic Opportunity building in Washington C.H. — included Fayette County Commissioners Dan Dean and Tony Anderson, Washington C.H. City Council member Dale Lynch, Fayette County Deputy Health Commissioner Leigh Cannon (for Fayette Public Health), Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth and the Fayette Farm Bureau Public Policy Chairperson Nicol Reiterman.
The meeting began with Reiterman explaining the Farm Bureau is neither for or against the levy. She said, “We’re providing an opportunity for everyone to understand what’s going to be before us [on the May ballot].”
Lynch explained his opinion that the jail is necessary. He spoke of two angles concerning the jail: the faith and recovery perspective, as well as the perspective he has as a city council member.
Lynch said during his time as a city council member, a little over 13 years, “I’ve learned several things about politics and about people’s feelings about government.”
He explained, “I think I would say 100 percent of people don’t want to pay more taxes.” Then he pointed out that at the same time of not wanting to pay taxes, many people want the county and city to supply things “that will keep them safe, that will entertain them, that will educate them and all those kind of things.”
According to him, this is a “dilemma” in government that is difficult to solve. Lynch explained “We have something a little different than our federal government. We cannot operate at a deficit. We have to keep our budget balanced.”
This led into talks about the cost to the county and city if the current jail, which has been in existence since 1884, were to close down and inmates had to be housed elsewhere. The current jail, according to Anderson, passed 31 0f the inspected areas but failed on 61. It can be closed. There are several problems, including no direct sunlight as windows are sealed over, no recreational area, which is not acceptable to the state, and a lack of space for proper separation of female and male prisoners, according to Stanforth.
A previous Record-Herald article covers this topic. The article is titled “Commissioners discuss new jail levy.”
That article explains “If the jail were to be shut down, at an average of 60 inmates and $65 per day per inmate, it would cost the county $3,900 per day. In one year it would cost $1,423,500. Those numbers don’t include the fuel cost, transport vehicle cost or labor cost for the deputies having to transport the inmates. These transports would also take deputies away from Fayette County, sometimes several hours away to another county’s facility, according to the commissioners. This cost could fluctuate from several factors, including the number of inmates in the system.”
The other angle is Faith and Recovery, which Lynch explained would not be focused on raising money but would focus on treatment and prevention of the drug problem in the county. Lynch said, “There is a serious drug problem in Fayette County just like there is across the country.” According to Lynch, a group of people first got together about four years ago to discuss the drug problem to see if the community could do something about it.
The group involved Lynch, the commissioners, sheriff, police chief, city manger, the faith community, the courts and public heath in attempt to find ways to solve that drug problem. According to Lynch, they found several layers to the drug problem that would require a lot of help but the best help for the problem would be “prevent[ing] people from doing it to start with.” He said he was pleased with their prevention programs for young people.
The next thing he explained was assistance by detoxing people, which currently only happens in the county’s existing jail.
Fayette Public Health provides nurses to go to the existing jail to treat inmates and give medications. According to Cannon, the space they utilize for medical needs was once used as a closet located under stairs.
Cannon explained it is difficult to provide medical care in this small space and especially difficult to provide detoxification. She said, “I’m here to tell you that is not the way to detox.”
There have been professional surveys completed to determine the need, standards and cost of the jail. Plans are based off these surveys. There is a “Construction Manager at Risk” in place which guarantees a maximum cost for the building of the structure. The cost can fall below this price and therefore lessen the amount of the loan that must be taken out, but it cannot go above that maximum cost.
The loan is secured through USDA. It is for $20 million spanning 40 years. The interest agreement is currently set at a fixed rate of 4 percent which, according to Dean, is one of the best rates the county can obtain. If the levy is not accepted this year and the loan not taken out this year, the interest rate will be lost for the county. This means future loans for a detention facility will potentially cost citizens much more money than taking part in it now.
The loan has no penalty for paying it off early. According to officials, this means funds left over or not utilized that were figured into the plan can go toward the loan so it can be payed off early.
For an idea of what individuals will be paying, Dean explained the cost of the tax is based off properties’ appraised value. For every $100,000 of appraised value of property, property owners would pay $66.50 per year (approximately $5.54 per month).
Anderson explained they had postponed discussions for the jail, because they believed the schools were a higher priority to the community. Once the community gained the new schools, conversations about the jail came up in 2017 and the process began with research into other facilities.
The structure is planned to be modern and much safer for workers. It includes cameras, a constant view of inmates, no physical keys, a control center and other features to increase security and safety. Part of the plan is a designated area for rehabilitation. The goal is 12 females and 12 males being treated at a time.
Inmates can progress and “graduate” into this treatment center to help address problematic behavior. This will give treatment and teach life skills for when they enter back into society. This will be eight hours a day of intensive programming, according to Stanforth.
Lynch said, “I’m obviously all in favor of it. I’m a taxpayer. I’m like you. I don’t like more taxes, but I think it’s something that we really need.”
Anderson said, “We will not obligate the county or ourselves or anyone else to anything beyond [the current agreements] until we see how the community is going to respond to our request that we provide the law enforcement, judicial system, and our inmates a much safer [environment] to work from.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @kenanipel.