Safe? Sanitary? Secure?

Published 10:53 am Thursday, April 18, 2019

Plans for repairs move forward as building plans are put on hold for detention center

What is costing Jessamine County almost $3 million per year to operate, is at the risk of being closed down due to overcrowding and is what some have called, “a lawsuit waiting to happen?”

Here is a hint: Its sole purpose in the county is to offer a sanitary, safe and secure environment for offenders who have been arrested, are awaiting judicial procedures and those who have been convicted, while also offering rehabilitative programs designed to aid offenders in their return to society.

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If you guessed the Jessamine County Detention Center you are correct, but many question exactly how “safe, sanitary and secure” the facility truly is.

In recent years, the Jessamine County Fiscal Court has met on several occasions to discuss the expansion, renovation, repair or even closure of the existing facility. As of last December, the decision to move forward on replacing the jail was tabled because the fiscal court remains divided on its necessity to the community. While the court’s last decision on the matter in December 2018 was to postpone a verdict until elected leaders had the opportunity to review options to raise additional funding, little to no action has been taken in the months since.

Worried building and operating a new jail would cost the county money it did not have, the fiscal court decided to hold an open house, per the request of Magistrate Terry Meckstroth, to discuss revenue options in January.

While county officials weigh their options for additional revenue streams to build a new facility or renovate the existing one, many want to know just how much the facility is costing the county right now and how much has the indecision by county officials continue to cost the taxpayers in Jessamine County.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

 

According to Jessamine County Jailer Jon Sallee, even if the detention center did not ship out inmates daily, it would still be considered one of the top five facilities for over population in the state of Kentucky. As it is, Sallee said, the jail sends an average of 15 inmates a day to be housed elsewhere and has over 4,000 people admitted each year. Some days, the center might ship out 10 and take in 10, making it a wash.

 

 

Sallee said the county conducted a feasibility study and architectural design in 2008 under the former Jessamine County Jailer Cecil Moss. In July 2017, it was estimated building a new center would cost the county $21 million.

Currently, the Jessamine County Fiscal Court budgeted $2,872,021 for jail operations for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

At maximum capacity, the JCDC is meant to hold 136 inmates. According to Chief Deputy Dru Parsons, the facility houses on average 190 inmates and must ship out approximately 15 inmates a day at the cost of $31.34 per inmate. Over a 12-month period, the additional expense for this service is $171,586.

When the fiscal court met in December 2018, they were presented three different proposals.

Option one was to build an addition and renovate the current detention center. This option would cost the county $4.678 million. The addition and renovation project had 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 an operational expense of $2.179 million per year.

“This was a 10 to 15 year plan to house other county or state inmates with extra beds until Jessamine County inmates took beds over,” Sallee said. “It would most the same as it does now.”

Option two, to repair the existing facility, was 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 operational cost per year.

Option three, closing the existing jail, would cost the county $2.782 million per year to send inmates elsewhere.

“The county is already $2.5 million in that if you don’t do the project, the county is going to be paying debt service on it for another 10 years,” Jim Codell of Codell construction said in a fiscal court meeting last December.

Sallee said because of the indecision from the Jessamine County Fiscal Court, three to four extensions have already been asked for on a property the county purchased in 2015 with plans to add onto and renovate the current facility.

IMPACTING COMMUNITY

“(We) have to let more people out than we normally would and judges can’t sentence the way that they want to because we are so overcrowded,” Sallee said. “I believe that the crime rate has directly affected (the community) and more people are being released back to the streets and not punished for their crimes.”

Sallee said the current issues at the Jessamine County Detention Center do not help the addiction issue the county is facing as well.

“People are not staying in jail and not going through detox and not having that opportunity,” Sallee said.

One program offered through the JCDC is the Resilience Program. Through this program, the Jessamine County Ministerial Association works with the Jessamine County Detention Center to offer a program to inmates focusing on forgiveness and grace and implementing a life action plan upon their release. The program works through staff and volunteers offering their time to help an individual complete twelve lessons and work to implement a life action plan full if personal accountability.

“In the new facility, three classrooms are designed for nothing but rehabilitation,” Sallee said. ‘We will be able to do different classes and more programs. Now, everything we do, everything has to be shared in one room. It’s a nightmare.”

But, that is not the only problem the Jessamine County Detention Center is facing.

“Sewer problems, roof problems, inmates on floor,” Sallee said. “We are not able to provide (safe, sanitary conditions) given what the fiscal court gives me to operate. I think that it is safe to the community, (but) it is not safe to my staff.”

 

OFFICALS POINT OF VIEW

To date, all six Jessamine County magistrates report they have toured the JCDC in its current state and agree that it needs repairs. Although, the fiscal court remains divided on how important those repairs are compared to other issues in the county, and magistrates still have yet to come up with an agreed upon view of how these repairs will be paid for.

“I have recently toured our JCDC and found the facility needs a lot of repairs,” Magistrate Paul Floyd said. “As far as a new detention center, it would cost our county more than our budget will allow. That is why I think we need to fix and repair the old detention center.”

Magistrate Justin Ray agrees the current detention center needs, at minimum, a major remodel.

“Our current building is worn out, plain and simple,” Ray said. “Is it the most convenient time to build looking at our financial situation? No, of course not. But that doesn’t mean we can just standby and do nothing. This jail project is something that’s been discussed for years. All the options have been laid out, opinions have been shared, revenue options have been presented. And we’re still on standby.”

Magistrate Gary Morgan feels, as far as the last vote on the JCDC, he does not see a new jail in the future for Jessamine County. But Morgan said he understands the importance of making changes.

“When you have the overcrowded population of the current jail, it cannot be a safe environment, for anyone,” Morgan said. “There are major repairs that need to be addressed.”

Magistrate Terry Meckstorth contends the jail is unsanitary due to water damage and needs many renovations, both inside and out. He also agrees the jail needs to be expanded because of overcrowding, but also said he believes the expansions and renovations need to begin when funds become available.

“The court will need to prioritize the needs of the county,” Meckstroth said. “We need to have competitive salaries with surrounding counties in all departments.  Presently, we can’t attract and retain qualified people with our current pay.  I believe the current state of the detention center is having a minimal effect in the community.  We, as a community, want a jail with well functioning and acceptable conditions. The current jail is safe and secure.  The sanitary conditions are unsatisfactory.  There is so much water damage in the facility and it’s difficult to keep things clean (like) falling insulation and buckets to catch water leaks.”

Magistrate Tim Vaughn feels the current abilities of the fiscal court are best used to utilize the available bond money to first repair the roof, replace the control panel and increase staff pay.

“My impression during the tour is that the water leaks have caused much damage including damage to the security control panel which needs replacement,” Vaughn said. “In addition, the men’s and women’s facilities are very overcrowded.”

However, Vaughn too feels the county must increase starting pay to attract qualified applicants and is in a critical short supply of 911 telecommunicators.

“A 911 monthly fee of $4.75 was recently placed on monthly utility bills,” Vaughn said. “This money can only legally be spent on the various 911 needs as previously mentioned. The court passed an insurance premium tax to be used for the various county needs. We have cut expenses for many years by reducing the number of employees and by deferring many equipment and building repairs. We hopefully will look at entering into a fleet management program that many other counties are doing in order to save money on vehicle repairs, etc. (Also) the county instituted ambulance billing changes to increase revenue.”

New to fiscal court this term, Magistrate Kent Slusher said, “Since I have only been there three months, I am asking questions. This has been an issue for many years and I will continue to ask questions to do what is best for our citizens. For me, the vote will be
for what is the best option to maximize taxpayer money. People want their
money used wisely to improve infrastructure and overall safety of our
community.”

As it stands right now, Morgan feels Jessamine County currently houses too many inmates in other facilities. A new facility, Morgan said, would generate enough revenue by housing inmates from other counties to pay for itself.

If the current detention center was shut down due to overcrowding, Morgan said Jessamine County would still be financially responsible for its inmates, no matter where they are housed.

“We would pay fees to other counties to house them, still pay their medical bills, transports to and from court, just to name a few,” Morgan said. “And those costs would just continue to increase.”

 

CHANGES ON HORIZON

When asked if he thought the Jessamine County Detention Center was currently at risk of closure from the Department of Corrections, Sallee said he did not think so.

“Not as much as it was because there is so many overcrowded facilities,” Sallee said. “They don’t know where they will put them. It is not as common because of statewide overcrowding.”

Judge Executive David West agrees with Sallee. West said space needed is somewhere in the thousands for inmates throughout the state. Jails, West said, do not make money because they are a service to their county.

“How much extra would it cost this county if we built this jail,” West said. “We looked at the income it would bring in and the extra expense with the payment, and even with the financial analysis the answer is somewhere between $400,000 and $1.4 million a year.”

West said he questioned the court about the decision to add onto the detention center, stating the facility is obviously overcrowded. However, to build an addition, where would the money come from?

“We have bonded the expenses we have spent so far,” West said. “That will allow us to fix the roof, update the security system and to make some updates in plumbing. That money we have already. The unknowns are with the insurance premium fee and the 911 funding. Exactly how much that is going to bring in?”

West said the county will not know how much extra funding it will receive from the insurance tax until October. With the 911 funding, West said the county will be able to start utilizing those funds in July.

“I think even Jon has realized, or has shared with me, the number one need is to pay his people a competitive regional wage,” West said. “Fix the roof obviously, but (still) none of that solves the overcrowding problem. The only way, unless we build a facility to do it, is to send more people out… Obviously we would like to have no overcrowding, but if you build a building you can’t pay for, that is not good either.”

West said his hope is that after the county addresses the pay scales and the detention center repairs, the two funding sources put in place recently would generate enough excess revenue to address the overcrowding of the Jessamine County Detention Center..

“Until … we have a year’s experience (and) until October we probably won’t know,” West said.

As of now, the bid extensions are expired, West said.

“The companies can come back and honor their previous bid or they can rebid,” West said. “We constantly look at ways to make ourselves more efficient, but we have cut and cut and cut. These two initiatives are big steps for the county. Hopefully in the neighborhood of $2 million more in revenue per year. We want to be sensitive to the people of Jessamine County. Right now, we don’t have anything else planned.”

West said the county is also looking at using the funds generated from the insurance tax and 911 fees for a vehicle replacement plan for county vehicles. Increasing wages, repairs on detention center and county equipment currently needed by government entities are top priority for the fiscal court, West said.

“I’m extremely satisfied, we run a very efficient government,” West said. “I think it is our duty to constantly ask questions, ‘how can we do this better,’ ‘how can we be more efficient,’ ‘how can we do this and not spend the money and still have the services we want.’ It is the same thing with the jail… It would be my hope that the funding from these two revenue sources will put us over the top and (we can) make a decision to add onto the jail (in the future).”