Jail study begins this week

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TCU Consulting Services will begin work in earnest Thursday to craft a study outlining parameters for a new Pike County Jail.

Ken Upchurch, co-owner of the firm, said that some preliminary work has been done, but the county’s contract with the firm begins September 7.

Upchurch explained what his firm will start on once they begin work.

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“We’ll be doing interviews next week on the classification and compensation piece,” Upchurch said. “We’re going to move on it first and work on jail itself, it’s potential locations and possibility of housing other departments of county government in the latter part of September.

“This is really a study of two pieces– one is the programming and location of the construction project and the other is the classification and compensation study.”

The classification and compensation study will be primarily data driven, Upchurch said, so there won’t be reported as much as the study on the construction.

“Basically, what happens is we come in and look at what currently exists–the number of positions, job descriptions, salary ranges– that hasn’t been updated since the late 90s,” Upchurch said. “We’ll interview the various employees in current positions and see how their duties align with the position they’re in. Then we’ll write new job descriptions that may align more with what’s going on today and look around at the market area for a wage analysis of what people are paying for such jobs in the public sector. You want to have the ability to go attract the best at the position with a competitive salary range and structure.”

Another part of the process that will be done fairly early will be the master schedule, which Upchurch called the “driving factor” of the process.

“We will submit that sometime around September 11 to September 18,” Upchurch said. “We like to have that out early so our clients can measure our activities and for us to measure the county’s response time. If either party begins to not be responsive, the process breaks down and it’s very hard to regain momentum.”

One thing Upchurch said isn’t his first concern right now is the budget.

“I don’t care about budget yet, you’ve got to get the data first,” Upchurch said. “Talking about that now constrains your thought process; if we mention the budget, we’re not going to think outside the box far enough. I don’t even know what the budget is for this project.”

Upchurch said he understands the budget’s importance down the line though. “It doesn’t matter what you get right as far as bed counts and collaborative parts; if you don’t align that with the budget, you don’t have a project,” Upchurch said. “It’s critical, but we have to find a way to stretch the county’s dollars as far as they’ll go and to do that we can’t look at the budget right now.”

The construction budget and the operating budget are two different things though, and Upchurch said the study will always have to keep a focus on the operating budget.

“We’ve een told very succinctly that is an absolute,” Upchurch said. “We want to get as much jail facility for that operating amount as we can. We’ll look at things like whether beds can be double bunked and how that would affect cost for staffing down the line and we’re going to go around and look at every entity governmental piece to see if we can leverage the move of that department into the jail facility.”

Upchurch said the first step in that process will be to see whether there’s an cost benefit to the county or convenience added for the citizens. “If there isn’t, it doesn’t make sense to do it,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch said his firm allows a fresh outside look at the jail for the county.

“We’re starting with a blank slate,” Upchurch said. “We like to say we come in with an unfiltered lens: y’all are used to certain things, but we look at things from a different perspective. We like to ask the ‘What if?’ questions then present those options to the commission for their review.”

The public will also get a say in the process, Upchurch said.

“Public hearings will be up to the commission, but normally on engagements like this we would just have one,” Upchurch said. “But we may offer it at three different times so everybody that wants to be a part can come. There will be a meeting for just listening to what the public has to say.”