Solution for jail approved

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

The threat of decertification of the Carter County Jail has finally brought county commissioners to the point of creating a short-term solution for overcrowding to accompany suggestions prepared by Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon, an engineering firm hired to analyze existing problems at the facility and offer potential remedies.
   Being prepared for long-term needs isn't adequate enough as the Tennessee Corrections Institute threatens possible decertification if a short-term solution was not created.
   The Jail Task Force submitted three motions for commission review. The first motion was "to authorize BWSC to proceed with Phase IV of a current needs assessment in progress." The motion asks BWSC to analyze in Phase IV the possibility of keeping the jail at the same location with an additional facility to meet the 10-year projection of 377 beds.
   The motion was approved 16-5. The motion asks BWSC to decide if the current location has enough land for addition and how much land would be needed, and to also analyze the possibility of future expansion and provide cost estimates.
   Motion two asked that the Jail Task Force have permission to prepare and implement plans for a portable facility to be located at the present site for 64 inmates. Commissioners tabled this motion and considered the third motion which detailed the costs of the portable short-term facility, estimated at $200,000.
   Jason Cody, county finance director, suggested the commission acquire the amount from a capitol outlay note after a Hampton Elementary School note is paid in August 2004. He said this would allow the county to "not be in a long-term debt structure."
   Commissioner Jeff Treadway said there is a "sense of urgency that we need to do something very quickly. TCI certification is tenuous at best."
   Commissioner John D. Snyder predicted certification is stable as long as the county is making progress toward a long-term solution. "When you build on to that jail the next thing we're going to holler, which we have done before is, we don't have enough parking space. So we'll be over here buying two or three houses to put parking spaces or we'll buy a baseball field."
   Commissioner Tom "Yogi" Bowers suggested Cody consider different areas to find the $200,000 in the county's general fund balance or from debt services without borrowing the money.
   Cody replied, "We currently don't have it. It is not healthy to take from the fund balance. If we take $200,000 from that, we would have $165,000, and that is a buffer for a $9 million budget. We would be up the creek without a paddle."
   Doug Buckles, Wayne Holtsclaw, Amos Stephens, Al Meehan, Jim Whaley, Joe Woods, Jerry Pearman, Phil Nave, Chuck Culler, Jo Ann Blankenship, Terry Montgomery, Lynn Tipton, Jeff Treadway, Richard Tester, Bill Armstrong, Robert Davis, and Roy Merryman voted yes to approve setting $200,000 aside for the portable housing unit. Jack Buckles, Lawrence Hodge, Bowers, John Lewis and Snyder voted no.
   The previously tabled motion to approve the short-term solution passed 18-4.
   Carter County School Board Chairman Daniel Holder and Director Dallas Williams appeared before the full court to update the progress of the school system and detail some major changes to a few schools.
   Holder announced the conclusion of a two-year study school board members conducted to assess the needs of each county school. He said the school board is working with Tony Street, architect for Beeson, Lusk and Street, Inc. to estimate the cost of building a new middle school in the Stoney Creek area and a new school to replace Valley Forge Elementary School. The board is also contemplating upgrading the gym at Cloudland Elementary School and adding classrooms in an effort to return the seventh and eighth grades to the elementary school instead of housing them at Cloudland High School.
   Since a cost for the entire project is not available yet, Holder plans to re-address the commission at the April commission meeting to ask for funding.
   Bowers questioned the study and the need for other schools. "Why can't we tear down that school (Range Elementary) and put some children in Central and some children in Keenburg? What are the costs of maintaining an old building, such as Range, as opposed to tearing it down and shipping those kids somewhere else?"
   Holder said, "Two things: We know that the school is old over there, and we know it needs something done. But every school needs a community. It is a central focal point in the community. If you lose your school you lose your community."
   Bowers questioned Williams, Holder and Gerome Kitchens, school finance manager, about the cost of maintaining the school.
   "Mr. Kitchens can you say? You're the finance manager for the school system. You're making big money. Tell me. Give me an answer. I would like to hear it. Would it be more cost effective to close Range School than to operate it? Tell me. Clock is ticking. Time's up."
   Williams said those figures were not immediately available and could not answer the question.
   County Mayor Dale Fair interrupted Bowers and said, "You won't always be able to answer some questions. Getting back to you can be your answer."
   In other business, commissioners unanimously approved a motion to place a legal notice of all county meetings in a local newspaper with the name, date, place and time of each meeting.