A change-order dealing with replacing locks at the county jail drew a lot of attention at last week’s commission meeting.
The change-order request failed in an unusual 2-2 vote (commissioner Gene Morgan was not present at the meeting).
The request had been for an eight-day extension on the completion of the project to replace the locks.
According to the meeting agenda, Brinks, the company that was to replace the security locks, has been unable to produce the needed hardware by the original completion deadline.
The locks in the jail are outdated and in order to repair them new parts have to be made.
The cost of the project is $488,800.
According to county administrator Robert Presnell, there was funding in this year’s budget for the new locks.
He said that in the recent inspection of the jail, the locks as well as the water heater and lights, which he explained were being worked on at the time, were mentioned.
The county is responsible for the upkeep of the jail facility.
He added that there were other things on the jail report that fall under the sheriff’s responsibility concerning staffing levels.
Structurally, he told the board, they were making a lot of progress, and putting a lot of money in the facility.
Chairman Eric Hinson asked what it would cost to renovate the jail.
Presnell stated that it would be an open-ended amount depending on what was done. To add capacity could cost $2 million.
There was some discussion by commissioner Sherrie Taylor about using part of the one-cent gas tax that was designated at one time for the jail.
It was later explained the money from that tax was now used to support the county’s public works department.
The tax had been extended after paying off the original jail bond several years ago. The jail was built in 1986.
Taylor said debt service for the jail was something the board needed to look at soon. She said the jail would need to be upgraded to match the new locks.
Presnell said the county wanted a fully functional jail and was working toward that goal.
Commissioner Doug Croley said he was disappointed that it was taking this project so long. “There has been a need for these jail locks for years,” he said.
He said the county could not build a new jail as cheaply as it is to bring the jail up to date, and there could be a pod added at some later time.
Commissioner Brenda Holt said that at one time a federal lobbyist was lobbying in Washington for a new facility and asking for $23 million.
The federal lobbyist was not kept by the county, she said, but the plans for the facility were still available.
“We need the locks,” she said, and then made the motion to approve the extension with Croley making the second.
Croley and Holt voted for the extension with Taylor and Hinson voting against it.
Hinson said he voted against it because he had asked how much it would cost to renovate the jail, adding that maybe next time it came up someone would know a price.
Commission Chairman Eric Hinson
In response, Holt said that as soon as the locks are installed, they don’t have to worry about the inmates. “Right now you are weighing cost against safety,” she said.
“You are liable out there,” she continued, saying that inmates did not sue the sheriff, they sued the county commission because the commission was responsible for the building.
Presnell said that the locks were going in anyway, and Croley stated that the company was just asking for an extension because of the production delays.
“We can break our agreement,” Hinson said, adding that the commission needed the renovation cost.
“The sheriff has yet to come to the board and present his case, to me at least,” Hinson said. “The sheriff has yet to call me up and say, hey, this is what is going on.”
Hinson went on to say that what he was now hearing was a matter of “hearsay or she say,” and if it was that important the sheriff would notify him as the chairman and everybody on the board that it was a serious issue.
Hinson said he supported the effort, but still wanted to hear from the sheriff.