Task Force moves ahead under pressure

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   With a pending class-action lawsuit facing the county and the Tennessee Corrections Institute keeping a close eye on progress, the Jail Task Force of the Carter County Commission decided Thursday evening to present some possible short-term and long-term solutions to the full Commission at its next meeting.
   The first recommendation will be for more long-term planning. The group passed a motion without dissent to recommend that the County Commission authorize Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon to proceed with Phase IV of the needs assessment study which is currently in progress.
   Included in Phase IV would be the directive that the architectural firm see if the county could remain at the current site for the jail and build a facility which, combined with the current jail, would bring the inmate capacity to 377 beds, which is the estimated number of beds the county will need in 10 years. Part of that study would be to see if the current location of the jail has adequate land space for the addition and, if not, how much land would be needed to comply.
   The Task Force also recommended that the directive to BWS&C include studying the possibility of a future expansion to meet the estimated needs of the county in 20 years. The directive also included a request for BWS&C to estimate the cost of each phase of the project.
   A second motion the Task Force voted to present before the full Commission is a request that the Commission grant the group the authorization to prepare and implement plans for the best possible short-term solution to the overcrowding problem at the Carter County Jail.
   The Task Force will also ask that the Commission authorize them to acquire and subsequently expend interim financing during the current fiscal year of up to $200,000 to implement the plans for short-term relief.
   The interim financing, according to County Finance Director Jason Cody, would be structured to begin payments after the start of the next fiscal year, when the county's debt structure could better afford it. "It's not really taking any line item money out of the budget this year," he said.
   Members of the Task Force discussed two options for the short-term relief of overcrowding at the Carter County Jail -- renting of portable detainment units which could be leased on an annual basis or constructing a temporary housing facility which could later be converted for another use.
   According to County Mayor Dale Fair, the short-term easement of overcrowding is of more concern to him right now than the long-term planning process. "Short-term planning is probably more important to us right now because of the pending lawsuit," Fair told members of the Task Force.
   Fair also said that the Tennessee Corrections Institute -- which is the governing body responsible for certifying and decertifying local jail facilities -- is also pressuring the County towards temporary relief of overcrowding. County and jail officials met with the TCI Board at the end of January and the board approved the recertification of the Carter County Jail at that time, but on certain conditions.
   "The statement to us was that they could send someone to decertify us at any time," Fair said. According to Fair, the TCI Board advised local officials that they must submit monthly progress reports and, if the TCI feels the County is not making progress, then the TCI can remove the jail's certification.