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Fiscal court postpones decision on jail project

Plans for a new or renovated Jessamine County Jail were put on hold as the fiscal court remains divided on both the need for a new facility and how to pay for it.

The Jessamine County Fiscal Court voted Tuesday not to accept the bid from Codell Construction for Jessamine County’s jail project after much discussion about the need to review options for additional revenue to pay for the facility.

Ultimately considering three different proposals, the first motion was made by Magistrate Justin Ray in favor of the addition and renovation of the current detention center.

“Jon is right,” Ray said. “We have known this forever. It is up to us to finance and pay for this thing. I agree with Tom Caulkins as well, but until a motion is on the table no one is going to discuss what to do. We are responsible for the incarceration of the individuals in this county. Quite frankly, we cannot do that where we are at right now.”

Magistrate Gary Morgan seconded the motion but the proposal failed to pass after magistrates Terry Meckstroth, Tim Vaughn and Paul Floyd voted against it.

Meckstroth told the court the county has a lot of needs and he did not think it was time to build a new facility without addressing those needs first.

Meckstroth said he also thought it necessary to have options in place to raise additional funds to pay for the jail.

“The 911 equipment needs to be updated,” Meckstroth said. “We need to replace our ambulances. It is hard to attract good people to work for the county because we do not pay them enough. We lose employees now because of what we pay them. … We should not be expanding the jail at this time.”

This proposal, to build an addition and renovate the current detention center, would cost the county $4.678 million dollars. The addition and renovation project has a projected revenue of $2.499 million, with the expanded detention center forecasted to generate additional revenue from increasing its number of beds, and would leave the county a deficit of $2.179 million per year.

Option two, to repair the existing facility, is projected to cost the county $3.176 million, with $695,235 in revenue production. This option would leave the county with a $2.481 million deficit per year.

Option three, closing the existing jail, would still cost the county $2.782 million, with a estimated revenue production of $119,500. The deficit per year for this option is $2.663 million.

“I believe the number is worse than this on two,” Jim Codell of Codell Construction said.

“Just looking at these numbers and what you have already expensed in purchasing properties and design fees, you are $2.5 million already in that if you don’t do the project, the county is going to be paying debt service on it for another 10 years, and you are not going to have anything to show for it.”

Caulkins, head of special projects for the jail, told the members of the court whatever decision is made it was his recommendation the court first decide how they were going to pay for the new facility.

“Without that, we can’t take the county into its most favorable decision and be reflected in the best light going into credit rating,” Caulkins said. “That is something I cannot find any record that the county has ever gone through. My recommendation is to have the financing plan passed first and then decide what you would like to do.”

Caulkins told the court there were three or four different things which could be done to bring in additional revenue.

One thing, he said, would be to let the taxpayers of the future pay for it by issuing lower-graded debt that would have a higher interest rate, which he did not recommend — and Meckstroth agreed with.

“So are you going to vote for additional revenue, is that right Mr. Meckstroth?,” Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goettl asked.

“That is not on the table,” Meckstroth said.

Former Jessamine County Jailer Frankie Hubbard spoke out against the decision to once again delay the jail project.

“The value that this jail carries is huge in this community. Now, Terry and Tim don’t see it as much in Wilmore, … but there is life to be saved by this jail. Twelve years ago, we could have built 100 beds for $4.1 million. Now you see what we are looking at today. Each community that wants something has to figure out how to pay for it, regardless of what it is — parks, roads or whatever comes from that community. This is 12 years overdue.”

Jessamine County Jailer Jon Sallee addressed the court as well, and said when he took over for Hubbard, building a facility with the same amount of beds was going to cost the county $9 million. Making the decision to push the project out has only resulted in costing the taxpayers in Jessamine County more money.

“We put it off another year Terry and it is going to be $16 or $17 million,” Sallee said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “That is a decision that you all have made for the taxpayers that cost them more money for the same thing that they could have got five years ago.”

Ray told the court additional options were needed from Caulkins and he would like to see them on the agenda moving forward.

“We will bring revenue enhancement proposals before you and they will be on the next agenda, three or four, and we can go from there having noted the need,” Judge-Executive David West said, before asking the magistrates, “As it is right now, the court is comfortable with the conditions at the jail right now?”

“We had 190 in this weekend lining the floors,” Sallee said. “We (only) have 96 beds.”

David Kibler of Catalyst Christian Church addressed the members of the fiscal court before the close of the meeting. Kibler said he serves in the jail every Sunday and urged the magistrates to reconsider.

“The conditions of the jail are honestly a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Kibler said. “I was stepping over people walking through the class where I teach. It can’t be safe for our workers there. It can’t be secure. I will ask you to reconsider or at least go down and see it. See the people laying in shackles and handcuffs on mats in the hallways.”