Polk commissioner concerned new jail will mean major tax increase

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2016

One Polk County Commissioner is expressing his concern that a new jail in the county will likely mean a major tax increase.

Polk commissioners met April 4 and heard from commissioner Ray Gasperson, who said he is not opposed to the county constructing a new jail, but he is concerned about the impact it will have on taxpayers. Gasperson also said he wants to make sure the right location is selected and is concerned that the county has not had any open or closed session discussions directing the county manager as to where a jail should be built. He also said he is concerned over how the county will pay for a new jail.

After some discussion, commissioners agreed with Gasperson that the county should send the Town of Columbus a letter asking what the town’s regulations may be if a jail were to be located within Columbus Town Limits.

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Gasperson said his request is to send a letter to the town.

“When you look around the state, the majority of the time (jails are) typically near the courthouse,” Gasperson said. “The likelihood of it being located here in Columbus is high. I think we should have a discussion with elected officials in Columbus.”

County manager Marche Pittman said the town’s regulations depend on where a new jail would be located, but likely, the county would have to apply for a special use permit from the town.

Commissioner chair Michael Gage at first was not in favor of the county sending a letter to Columbus, saying the town will know for sure where the jail is going.

“I’m thinking they already know,” said Gage.

Gage said he was a Columbus Town Councilman when they put ordinances together and the county would have to go to the town prior to building a jail if it’s located within town limits.

Newly appointed commissioner Ted Owens, who is filling the unexpired term of the late Tom Pack, said as far as contacting Columbus, he doesn’t see any harm in it.

“I think it would be fine to do that and just get their input,” Owens said.

Owens also said as far as the location of a new jail, he doesn’t think at this point the county knows where it’s going to be.

Commissioner vice chair Keith Holbert didn’t agree at first with speaking with the town until the county has a definite location for the new jail.

Commissioner Shane Bradley also said the county has no idea at this point where they are looking for property. He said the county should have something a little more firm before going to the town.

Pittman said getting Columbus’ thoughts on a location would give the county information to know what to look out for before selecting a site.

“There’s some benefit to reaching out to them,” Pittman said.

Holbert said that being the case, he’s in favor of reaching out to the town and all other commissioners agreed.

Gasperson said concerning financing a new jail, he’d love to see a bond referendum.

He said Polk County should not be fearful of a bond issue in the county as a state referendum passed in March and Polk County voters followed the state voting and  approved the referendum.

“We just had a major bond issue that passed in the state,” said Gasperson.

Gasperson also said since the county hasn’t put money back for a new jail, he doesn’t know how the county will avoid a tax increase to pay for it.

“Since we have not set aside monies over the last several years specifically for a new detention center, I don’t know how you’re going to avoid a tax increase,” said Gasperson.

The majority of commissioners approved a contract with Moseley Architects in February this year for $283,282 to design a new detention center and sheriff facility. Moseley also did a feasibility study for the county and presented those results earlier this year. The design contract is for a 90-bed jail facility, which is estimated at $10 million for site and building construction costs. The total design services will be $797,950. The $10 million estimate does not include costs for construction of a sheriff’s administrative building. The county took the initial $283,282 out of its fund balance but said in February once financing is obtained, that money can be paid back to the county’s general fund.

Polk County’s current jail was constructed in the early 1970s, is often over capacity with the county spending money to house inmates in other counties and has had negative state inspections for many years because of the aged infrastructure.