The first of several budget meetings for the Gadsden County Commission was held last week.
The one topic that drew the most attention involved the potential to add a “pod” to the existing county jail and building a new administrative building for the sheriff’s department.
County Administrator Robert Presnell presented the commission with several options for the project.
A new jail pod would cost $3.5 million and an administration building would be $2.5 million, Presnell explained.
Most of the discussion centered around the way in which the county would pay for the project.
According to Presnell, the loan to build both buildings would be $503,834 annually at 3 percent interest for 15 years.
Presnell said the loan could be paid back with a two-cent additional fuel tax.
The county can raise the fuel tax by as much as five cents.
Presnell explained to the commission that there is about $1 million in needed repairs at both current sheriff’s department buildings. Part of that, he said, is a new roof at the current W.A. Woodham Center.
The county leases that building from Tallahassee Community College but must maintain the facility.
Sheriff Morris Young spoke about the need for the new facilities and especially the new jail pod.
He has been in charge of the jail for 10 years, he said, and has had problems with overcrowding since he took office.
He said the jail, which was built in the late 1980s, was insufficient at that time and the problem has continued.
At one time there was some consideration about housing federal inmates at the jail for a fee, but when asked by Commissioner Gene Morgan about that possibility, Young explained that the federal prisoner population had dropped and that option was no longer viable.
Sheriff Young mentioned the current 1-cent gas tax that is being collected by the county. That tax, he said, was used originally for paying off the jail debt. Once that debt was paid off the funds have been split between transportation and fire services.
It was explained that the problem with diverting that tax now is that it is currently used as part of the budgeted revenues for those two areas.
County Administrator Robert Presnell discusses options.
There was some concern about the county’s future financial status. Prior to the jail discussion Presnell had reported that property tax revenues showed a $258,000 decline and gas taxes were down about $100,000.
Other revenue sources appeared to be the same, he said.
After considerable debate, Commissioner Sherrie Taylor stated that it was obvious that the commission would not have a super majority vote for raising the gas tax (at least four of the five commissioners).
She wanted to look at the option presented to build just the administration building.
Both commissioners Doug Croley and Morgan stated they were not in favor of raising taxes.
Commissioner Brenda Holt said she wanted to look at the option of building the administration building as well, but with no additional gas tax.
Presnell presented that option, explaining that savings on a new building from utilities and repairs could save the county about $104,000. The loan payment would be $212,000 a year. With transfers from the transportation and general revenue funds, as well as the savings in operating expenses, the debt payment could be made.
This was a workshop and no decisions were made about this issue. The next budget workshop is scheduled for July 24, at 4 P.M.
CUTLINE 1: County Administrator Robert Presnell discusses options.