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Commission votes to build new jail off-site

A new Pike County Jail will not be built at the site of the current facility.

The Pike County Commission voted 4-1 Monday night to move on to “phase 2” of the project and have TCU Consulting Services begin studying all off-site options in more depth as the commission seeks to make a decision on a site for the new jail.

“After our public hearings and engaging with people that were there, I think it’s probably time to move ahead and engage TCU with the second phase and decide whether we’re going to go offsite and not at the courthouse,” said Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4. “That way they can start giving us site assessments to start making decisions on that.”

Commissioner Charlie Harris, District 5, said he thought the commission should wait and talk to TCU one more time before voting to move forward with the decision.

“There are some sites that are not going to meet our requirements, for one,” Harris said. “(The Dunbar Drive property) shouldn’t be used as a site; it’s a federal property so it’s going to take a long time to get that site cleared and we don’t know what the cost of that site is going to be.”

Harris said the Dunbar site is too close to Troy Elementary School to locate the jail on that property.

“We haven’t had a jail break yet, but if we ever have one, my thinking is that the first thing we’re going to have to do is close down the school and panic every mother and father in this county that has children going there; we’re going to have a chaos.”

Harris was the lone commissioner to vote against entering phase 2 of the project and committing to constructing the jail at an alternative site. Commissioner Homer Wright, District 1, was not present at the meeting.

Harris said he believes the county’s property at the Pike County Road Department makes more sense as a site for the new jail since the county already owns the property.

In addition to the Dunbar and Road Department sites, the county is considering five other undisclosed sites that are all private property.

Copeland said the vote is to get TCU to do more research to compare the sites so that commissioners can consider all the pros and cons of each site and make a decision on one of them for the new jail site.

In making the motion, Copeland said that the downtown site is not feasible for a variety of reasons including higher operational costs, limited potential for expansion and disruption of court and jail activities during construction on the site.

The commission also voted unanimously Monday night to move forward with a $45,000 annual plan to have litter cleaned up around the county three days a week, 48 weeks a year using work release inmates.

The commission made the vote with the condition that insurance covers liability of a part-time worker that would be supervising the inmates.

County Engineer Russell Oliver told the commission that there were currently six inmates that would be available at $15 per day through the Elba work release program but that the opportunity to bring the work crew to Pike County was time-sensitive.

Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, said the plan cost just half of the savings from a move the commission made earlier this month to restructure the commission office and save $80,000 a year.

Johnson said he is also in talks with potential private partners that could help cut the costs for the county even more.

“We’re banging our heads against this desk with all the people calling and asking us, begging us to do something about the trash,” Johnson said. “And we’ve all seen it. This is something we can’t take lightly.”

Copeland said litter and road conditions are probably “99.9 percent” of the phone calls the commission receives from citizens.

“The whole point is to reinvest the citizen’s money in a way reflects what they’re wanting,” Copeland said. “If we can get this done, it’s a bargain discount.”

The commission also voted to introduce a new and improved website, which it has been working on for more than a year now to set up. The site will feature photos, contact information for the commission, news, community links, minutes and agendas, calendars and more.

The commission will meet again on Monday, March 11, upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the regular meeting will follow at 6 p.m.