New option sought to conduct jail feasibility study

Published 3:00 am Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Pike County Commission must explore options for conducting a feasibility study for a new jail after a request for bids failed to generate interest.

District 6 Commissioner Russell Johnson said the lack of formal bids stemmed from potential bidders’ desire to be guaranteed the contract for the architecture and construction.

“That would defeat the purpose,” Johnson said. “We wanted someone unaffiliated with the construction process to do the study.”

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That separation is important, he said, to ensure the feasibility study produces realistic cost estimates for the commission and the taxpayers. To do that, the company that conducts the study must be “so far removed from the architectural and construction part that they were going to get paid the same thing whether we paid $5 million or $10 million (for the construction of the jai)l.

“That way when the taxpayer looks at us, it isn’t just what the salesman offered. It’s a systematic, managed approach.”

The feasibility study would take into account census data, estimated growth, jail data and more to map out what type of jail would be needed in Pike County.

The commissioners voted unanimously Monday to seek local-private legislation to levy a 1.5 percent sales tax throughout the county and a .5 percent sales tax in the City of Troy to fund construction. If approved by the Legislature, the tax is expected to generate about $2.5 million per year which will be earmarked solely for repaying the estimated $8 million to $10 million construction costs. Once those are completed, the tax will be rescinded, according to commissioners.

Johnson said that the commission is now exploring whether to partner with Troy University or Auburn University to conduct the study.

“Hopefully one of them or both together can do it,” Johnson said.

This is part of the due diligence that must be done to ensure the jail construction is handled correctly, Johnson said.

“We’re doing the due diligence that it deserves,” Johnson said. “What we build might be here for the next 50 years.”

The feasibility study would not only determine the construction costs of the jail, but would also detail some of the operating expenses for the jail.

Sheriff Russell Thomas said that the feasibility study would outline how many beds the jail would need to service the county and how many employees would likely be necessary to run the facility.

“With a new jail comes larger staff and larger responsibilities,” Thomas said. “The feasibility study that’s going to be done will answer a lot of those questions – the number of beds you need, the number of employees you need, how much growth is anticipated over the next 25 years so it can accommodate that growth – all that’s got to be done after that feasibility study.”

Thomas said Covington County, Dale County and Monroe County which all have 23 or more employees. Coffee County, he said, employs 40 people at its facility.

Of those counties, Thomas said Covington, Coffee and Monroe have jail budgets of $1.3 million, $1.5 million and $1.6 million respectively.

Pike County has nine employees at the jail and a $650,000 budget.

“We’ve saved money by running a bare-bones staff on a very lean budget,” Thomas said.

Citing this potential revenue need, the commission passed a second resolution Monday asking the Legislature for permission to raise court costs by $35 and charge $500 to those convicted of selling and trafficking drugs.

This is estimated to bring in approximately $200,000 a year, according to an estimate from the State Budget Office. Those revenues would be used to offset increased operating costs.

Johnson said that he hopes to have more information about the feasability study soon, but is not sure when it will be completed.