Commission to make important jail decisions soon

Published 12:56 am Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Pike County Commissioners are still deciding how to move forward on selecting a site for a new county jail after receiving evaluations of four sites in executive session at their previous meeting.

But that’s not the only big decision that the commissioners will be making about the jail in the coming months.

“The other decision out there to be made is that we have to publicly address whether this thing is going to be a jail complex or just the jail,” said Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4. “We are going to run into serious funding issues if we make this thing a jail only for operational costs. The biggest decision, I think, is what all goes and what all stays. There’s a lot of information we have to digest and we have talk to people about that decision.”

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The county made the decision in February to eliminate the current jail site as an option for the placement of a new jail. Two possible sites have been disclosed publicly: county property at the Pike County Road Department and Dunbar Drive, which the Troy Housing Authority is in the process of disposing for sale. Two other sites were also evaluated by TCU Consulting Services, the consultant hired by the commission to identify the needs for a new jail, but the sites have remained confidential as the commission seeks to hold an advantage for negotiations.

Commissioners had different opinions about whether the commission needs to have any more public discussion of the sites before taking a vote on a site.

The decision to build a jail at a new site poses an extra set of decisions for the commission, necessitating the consideration of a justice facility to manage operating costs.

If the new jail were built at the site of the Pike County Road Department – which commissioners Charlie Harris, District 5, and Homer Wright, District 1, have both said they prefer – there would be at least 3.2 miles between the jail and courthouse.

Unless inmates were able to appear in court via video instead of in person, this would mean a 3.2 miles of gas that the county would have to pay for the transport of inmates to the courthouse or Sheriff’s deputies handling business between the two locations.

TCU founder Ken Upchurch showed the concept of a jail complex during two public hearings held earlier in February. The possible facilities in addition to the jail include the courtrooms, judges’ offices, the clerk’s office, the sheriff’s office and possibly even the district attorney’s office.

This would cost more to build but less to operate, Upchurch said. The funding source is already secured for the construction of the jail – a 1.5 percent sales tax in the county outside of Troy, where the tax is 0.5 percent, has generated more than $5.7 million. The jail complex, excluding property prices, is expected to cost approximately $30 million.

Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, said another pressing question that the commission will need to have answered within the next two or three months is which architect is going to build the facility.

“A committee is being formed at TCU’s recommendation that will include representatives of the courts, the commission, the sheriff’s department and the public to interview architects,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at five architects right now that the committee is going to interview. That committee will submit a full packet for the commission to review so we can sit down and start making a decision on which firm to use to design the jail.”

Johnson said he’d like to see the site and architect selected by June or July so that the commission can “get this thing rolling.”

The commission has not set a timeline to make any decisions. Upchurch said governing bodies often take a few weeks to review the site evaluation data before moving forward and that it is the prerogative of the commissioners on what they do next and when.

The commission will be meeting tonight upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the business meeting will follow at 6 p.m.­­