Franklin County officials likely will ask residents to vote for a sales tax to build a new jail, or face closure of the 42-year-old lockup in Ozark, the county judge said.
County Judge Rickey Bowman said officials are in the early stages of planning for a new jail. Quorum Court members heard a presentation by one jail builder, SouthBuild LLC of Tennessee, last month and will hear from another, Treanor Architects of Kansas, next week.
Sheriff Anthony Boen said the county needs a new jail, pointing out that the current one was built in 1974 and is too small for the county's needs and is too worn out to repair.
He said the jail, designed for 26 prisoners, often holds 50, which puts extra wear and tear on facilities. The jail is so old that replacement parts for the crumbling plumbing aren't made anymore, he said.
"I don't see any way around it," Boen said. "The old jail is not going to be worth fixing."
The jail also is understaffed, he said. Jailers do double duty dispatching for the sheriff's office and 21 other agencies. It puts jailers in a position of choosing between backing up a fellow jailer in trouble or answering a 911 call for help.
Bowman said he is going to assign the Quorum Court's jail committee next week to produce a plan of action that the entire court can vote on in May. One of the jobs of the committee will be to determine the size and cost of a new jail and the size of the sales tax that would be needed to pay for it.
If the Quorum Court approves the action plan next month, it will meet the June 6 deadline the Arkansas Criminal Detention Facility Review Committee gave the county to avoid the jail shutdown, which would force the county to find other lockups for its prisoners.
The review committee determined after its last inspection that the jail, among other things, was overcrowded and the jail's design no longer met state standards, Bowman said.
If the jail is shut down, the sheriff would be allowed to hold a prisoner there for only 24 hours before transferring him to a more long-term lockup.
Bowman said it could cost Franklin County as much as $720,000 a year to pay another county to house its prisoners at $50 a day for each of the 40 to 50 inmates the jail typically holds. On top of the housing fee, the county would have to bear transportation and medical expenses for its prisoners.
"I don't see how we can financially stand those fees," Bowman said.
Bowman said a new jail cannot be built where the current jail stands because the lot just off the downtown square is too small. It could be built on a larger lot the county owns on Airport Road in north Ozark.
Bowman and Boen tried to address as many of the jail deficiencies listed in the committee's report that they could. Boen said he made improvements such as replacing the kitchen's stove with a fire suppression system and installing smoke alarms.
Bowman said arrangements were being made to provide required training for jailers in responding to fires, and purchasing firefighting clothing.
"It was pretty tough on the budget," Boen said. "It cost several thousands of dollars to make the repairs."
NW News on 04/07/2016