$1.8 million to temporarily fix jail problem

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Facing a lawsuit and jail cells brimming with inmates, the Carter County Commission was shoved into a special meeting on Monday evening to approve a short-term solution for the overcrowded jail. Commissioners decided to spend $1.8 million to renovate the current facility and add a portable unit containing 92 beds.
   Commissioners considered four courses of action recommended by the county's Jail Task Force. They chose the first option and amended it to purchase a 92-bed portable facility instead of a 60-bed facility.
   Each additional year with the short-term solution will cost the county $306,759 to cover extra staffing. Advantages of choosing a portable facility include the time and flexibility of the project, according to Carter County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy James Parrish. The portable facility can be in place in as little as 10 weeks and will be placed in the north end of the existing parking lot.
   The original option included adding 13 positions per the request of Tennessee Corrections Institute Detention Facility Specialist Melody Gregory in an effort to retain jail certification. Because that plan only called for 60 inmates to be housed at the portable facility, and the commission approved the facility to have 92 beds, the number of jailers will have to be increased according to specifications set by TCI.
   To pay for the short-term solution, commissioners must now decide whether or not to raise property taxes or find funding in other areas.
   County Finance Director Jason Cody said funding the project totally through an increase in property taxes would equal a 16-cent increase. Another option "could be piecing together" different areas, according to Cody. A special privilege tax, such as a wheel tax, could also be combined with a sales tax increase, and a smaller property tax increase.
   "There are other revenue sources to tinker with," said Cody.
   Before commissioners voted on the issue, Cody notified the commission that if they approved the motion, "This is a financial committment, and we have got to find a way to fund it."
   Four commissioners who voted against the motion were Doug Buckles, Jack Buckles, Tom "Yogi" Bowers, and John Lewis.
   The jail is currently certified with 91 beds, and, as of Monday, there were 223 inmates in the facility. The short-term solution will only place a band-aid on the situation until the jail study can be completed by Barge, Waggoner, Sumner, and Cannon and a permanent solution can be decided on.
   Commissioner John D. Snyder said, "There are still going to be inmates on the floor and we're going to be sued again."
   The county is facing a potential class-action lawsuit citing "inhumane" conditions at the Carter County Jail and alleging that some inmates are not receiving proper medical attention. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 26 in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.