Bi-County Jail Proposal Discussed

Library Renovation Costs Double

By Connie Las Schneider

Franklin County Quorum Court members heard a pitch for a new bi-county jail with Logan County Thursday and approved formation of a 5 member committee to consider the pros and cons of the proposal.

Justices also approved an Ordinance 8/1 that doubles the library Renovation budget from $400,000 to $800,000, and unanimously approved three Appropriation Ordinances and a Resolution to construct a water project for the Watalula Water Users Association. All Justices were present.

Bi-County Jail

Logan County Jail Committee Chairman Mike Schluterman asked Franklin County Justices if they were "interested in joining us" in a $12 million dollar bi-county jail centrally located in the Caulksville area.

"Together, we can build a bigger and better jail cheaper," said Schluterman adding that "Caulksville is an ideal place" because it is 20 minutes either way between Ozark, Charleston in Franklin County and Booneville and Paris in Logan County.

The proposed jail would have an inmate capacity of 150-200 prisoners to house both counties’ prisoners with room for prisoners from other counties awaiting transfer to Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) jail. ADC and other counties pay a per-day fee to hold each prisoner so the cost of operating a larger facility could be offset, but funding for the new jail will require both counties to pass 1% sales tax increases, said Schluterman, with ¾% for construction and ¼% for operations.

Nobody likes to propose a tax increase for a new jail, but a bi-county jail is the most cost effective way to solve both counties’ overcrowded jails and protect us from lawsuits, said Schluterman.

The Arkansas Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee notified Logan County several months ago that they needed to address "continuing problems" from overcrowding. "If we stay out of compliance, the state will come in and tell us what to do and we won’t have anything to say about it," noted Schluterman. In response to this notification, Logan County appointed a 5 member committee to research the reconditioning of their current jail.

"The committee decided they would be "throwing good money after bad money (with the old jail) and Logan County Justices decided we had to go with a new jail,’" explained Schluterman.

Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Boen said Franklin County Jail also has long standing overcrowding. "We’re having the same problems. Our 26 bed facility averages 40-something inmates and we’re going to have to do something." Boen also said while he still has a lot of questions and didn’t like the idea of a sales tax increase, he thought the idea was "worth looking into."

Justice Chad Haberer asked Schluterman if any other Arkansas counties had a bi-county jail. Schluterman replied, "We talked to State Senator Gary Stubblefield and he said we would be the first to do this so maybe we can get grant money."

Justice David Hewitt asked Schluterman how prisoners from two counties would be integrated and if running the jail with two Sheriffs could work. Justice Mary Jane Cains also questioned the plan saying, "I see some sticky wickets there."

Schluterman explained that the jail would be run by a hired Jail Administrator who would coordinate operations and that each county’s inmates would have separate facilities. "If we can get together, we can work something out. We owe it to ourselves to try to resolve this (jail overcrowding)."

In response, Justices voted unanimously 9/0 to have Franklin County Judge appoint a five member Jail Committee consisting of the County Judge, Franklin County Sheriff and three Justices to research the proposal.

Library Budget Doubles

A new General Ordinance was added to the agenda and passed 8/1. This ordinance asked for an additional $400,000 loan to cover the cost of the Franklin County Library expansion and will be paid back by the library tax. $400,000 has already been set aside for the project so the total cost of the expansion has doubled to $800,000.

Justices Cains cast the only no vote, later saying she was concerned about the legality of the Ordinance (a General Ordinance usually takes three separate readings) and was also worried about county over-spending with limited funds, particularly in lieu of the current discussion about a new jail.

Watalula Resolution

Justices unanimously approved a Resolution to authorize the Franklin County Judge to submit a grant application through the Western Arkansas Planning Development District (WAPDD) to the State of Arkansas on behalf of Franklin County and, if the grant is awarded, to expend funds to construct a water project for the Watalula Water Users Association.

Watalula had a public hearing at the Franklin County Courthouse before the Quorum Court meeting that 30 or more people attended, said Susan Cloos, Watalula Water Users Association Manager.

The proposed project will impact up to 190 customers in Franklin and Johnson Counties.

Appropriation Ordinances

Two Appropriation Ordinances in the Sheriff’s department budget passed unanimously.

Ordinance 2014-5 amended Ordinance 2013-26 for the purchase of a used Crown Victoria for the Sheriff’s Department to replace two vehicles severely damaged during the ice storms. Both vehicles were "deemed a total loss by the insurance carrier" and $12,876 is the anticipated Insurance reimbursement. To replace these vehicles, the Sheriff’s Department plans to purchase used 2011 Crown Victoria for $12,500 and parts of the two wrecked cars were salvaged to make one good vehicle, said Boen.

Ordinance 2014-7 transfers a $4,300 grant to the Sheriff’s Department to purchase portable breath analyzers.

Charleston EMS Building

Justices were shown architectural blueprints by Jo Dawn Minden of Biggerstaff, Minden and Hall Architects for the new 6000 sq.ft metal EMS building to be built in Charleston. The facility will have four bays, a safe-room, bunk room and classroom facilities and will cost approximately $400,000.

$80,000 had been previously appropriated under Ordinance 2013-26 in connection with this project of which $70,520 is left after paying $9,480 to the architect.

To complete the project, Justices unanimously approved Appropriation Ordinance 2014-06 which transfers $329,480 from the Special Sales Tax (Hospital fund) to the Construction (Charleston EMS) budget line. This ordinance was approved by unanimous vote.

Other Resolution

A yearly Resolution on the county’s Mission Statement for Family Self Sufficiency also passed unanimously.