Commission approves funding for jail improvements

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

The Carter County jail will see some immediate improvements. The county commission approved financing for improvements in response to a state ultimatum which had to be answered by Monday afternoon, or the jail would have lost its certification.
   Last week state inspectors mandated the county increase its number of jailers, install security cameras, and complete outstanding maintenance at the 21-year-old-building. Inspectors required five additional jailers, including one supervisor, and relief staff be added at the county jail that has operated over maximum capacity for several years.
   Deputy Sheriff, James Parrish briefed the full county commission on the required changes at the jail. "What the inspector found is that we have got a very high number of inmates and a low number of jailers," Parrish said.
   Parrish added that some of the changes can be taken care of by rearranging existing staff members, but said three additional jailers will have to be hired. The cost of providing salaries and benefits for new employees is the most pressing issue for the county.
   Parrish believes the jail will be able to come up with the finances for this year. He said the will have to find $35,000 within the budget to cover the cost of adding the jailers.
   "The place where we are short is on the staff. We can work within our budget this year in order to take care of it for now by transferring money from the fuel and vehicle side. We are going to defer some of those costs and where we are at the end of the year," Parrish said. "We will use that money for the salaries first, then if there is any money left over we will go ahead and spend it on what it was originally intended for."
   Parrish told commissioners that in the future he will need approximately $25,000 a year per new employee. He estimated an additional $75,000 will be needed in next year's budget.
   The state also mandated that security cameras be installed, and other maintenance projects be completed at the county jail immediately. The county has to devise a plan for the installation of floor drains, and for repairs to the roof and windows.
   Parrish stated that the jail has enough money in its building fund to take care of most of the cost of the maintenance projects. "We have $64,000 in the jail building fund, and there is going to be more than that by the end of the fiscal year," Parrish said.
   County Financial Director, Jason Cody asked commissioners to approve the methods of funding for the immediate improvements at the jail. "We are trying to do two things primarily. We are trying to defer some of our expenses in this fiscal year, and the second part of that is were are asking if there are some savings out there that we can potentially capture to come up with the money," Cody said.
   The commission voted unanimously in favor of the funding methods, securing the continued certification of the county jail. The de-certification of the jail would have resulted in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state board financing. The jail would have lost its insurance as well which would have left the county extremely vulnerable to law suites.
   The mandated changes are a Band-Aid on a overcrowding problem that will need a long term solution in the near future. According to Perry, the jail has a daily average of 160 inmates, but often reaches numbers as high as 180. The building was originally designed to house 50 inmates.
   County Executive, Dale Fair attributed the structural problems at the facility to its continued over population. "This is all a direct relationship to over crowding. If you build a building for 50, and you put 150 in it, if you do not have a lot of supervision it is going to deteriorate rapidly," Fair said.
   Fair appointed a nine man task force to develop potential solutions to the problem at the jail. County officials have been looking at the problem for over a year.