Polk plans for new jail to be under contract by November

Published 10:13 pm Thursday, April 21, 2016

Inmate cells at the current Polk County Jail. County commissioners said this week they want a new jail under contract by November. (photos by Leah Justice)

Inmate cells at the current Polk County Jail. County commissioners said this week they want a new jail under contract by November. (photo by Leah Justice)

The majority of Polk County Commissioners said the can has been kicked down the road long enough and it’s time to move on building a new jail.

Commissioners met Monday, April 18 and decided to direct county manager Marche Pittman to move forward with getting the construction of a new jail under contract by November if possible. The county is negotiating with the 4-H Center to trade its 6.5 acres on Locust Street with the county’s former adult day building and its 6.5 acres located on Carmel Drive, in order to build the new jail on current 4-H property. Other decisions included that the majority of commissioners want to seek bank financing to pay for the estimated $11 million project.

During a long discussion and a power point presentation from Pittman, commissioner chairman Michael Gage asked Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill if a jail is really needed in Polk.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Hill very frankly said he has been telling commissioners about the need for the last six to seven years and something has got to be done. He detailed the current jail’s issues, built in 1973, including urine coming through the ceilings, feces in the floor from plumbing problems and known mold and flooding issues, among others. See a separate article on Hill’s discussion about the current jail on page ?????

Commissioners’ attention following Hill’s speech quickly turned to what will be the fastest route to building a new jail.

The discussion began with Pittman saying he needed direction from commissioners regarding the new jail’s location, financing and paying for the debt service.

Pittman said right now the county is facing an $11 million project. He said the county could apply for a USDA loan, consumer lending (bank financing), limited obligation bond or a general obligation bond.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson, who was the only commissioner who did not agree with Monday’s decision, said the taxpayers are going to pay for the jail so he wanted to bring taxpayers into the decision, meaning a general obligation bond.

Gasperson agreed that Polk does have issues with its current jail but said the county is not under court order to close it down and there are things Polk can do. Gasperson said he is not in favor of fast tracking a new jail and said he wants to make sure the county is building a jail on the most suitable property.

Commissioner Ted Owens said he agreed with Sheriff Hill, saying Polk has “kicked this can for many years even before (Hill) came along.”

Owens said the state inspections were good on the jail in the 1980s.

“We need it,” said Owens. “We sit around here, talking about kicking the can. It needs to be done. And it comes to a point, commissioners, that we just have to bite the bullet. Whatever we’ve got to do we’ve got to do it.”

Owens added that if something happened and the county got sued, then they could have paid for a lot of jails.

The costs

Polk County hired Moseley Architects last year to do a feasibility study on what Polk needs in a new jail. The study concluded that a new jail is estimated to cost $10 million with another $1 million to add an administrative section for the sheriff’s office.

Pittman said the debt service would be due bi-annually and the county is looking at approximately $1 million in debt service per year for the building. Pittman also said in the Moseley study, there needs to be an additional nine positions hired, which will mean nine new benefits, FICA, salaries and uniforms, etc., which he estimates at an additional $500,000 per year in the county’s budget.

“So essentially, you’re looking at $1.5 million per year,” said Pittman.

If the county is looking at a tax increase as the tax base stands now, Pittman said, one penny on the tax rate equals $277,522.

Pittman said what one penny equals in Polk could change after the current property revaluation is complete. He said he’s working on the new budget now and has already worked in half of the debt service. The $500,000 estimate on new employees at the jail would not begin until after the new jail is open, so Pittman is planning on $1 million in debt service for the building for next fiscal year.

Commissioners said there’s no way of knowing what the tax increase will have to be until they discuss the upcoming budget.

“Well it’s been kicked down the road so we have no choice but a tax increase,” said commissioner vice chair Keith Holbert.

Owens said a tax increase decision will be part of the budget process.

“Then you decide whether to have a tax increase or not,” said Owens.

Commissioner Shane Bradley asked about Lake Adger, which the county is looking into selling.

“Any takers on Lake Adger yet?” Bradley asked.

No matter which financing option the county chooses, Polk will have to seek approval from the N.C. Local Government Commission (LGC).


Pittman said the county is kind of limited if the jail is going to be in the Town of Columbus and said most jails are located near a county’s courthouse. A courthouse has to be located within the county’s seat.

Columbus has zoning to regulate public service areas, with the only areas being the hospital property, Stearns and Locust Street.

In order to build a jail in Columbus, the county would likely have to obtain a special use permit from the town.

Pittman said the 4-H property on Locust Street is a 6.5-acre site and the discussion has been centered around trading that for the former adult day facility and the 6.5 acres surrounding that.

There was some discussion that the property needs to be large enough to one day house a new courthouse. Pittman said nearby Gibson Park, owned by the county has an additional 6.5 acres and another lot above that the county owns is two acres, so the county could put a jail and a future courthouse on the Locust Street site with little problem.

The 4-H property was appraised for $365,000 compared to the county’s adult day building at $290,000, according to Pittman’s figures. Pittman said requests by the 4-H Center include that the cooperative extension offices also be located at the former adult day center as well as 4-H having first right of refusal on any additional acreage surrounding the old adult day care facility if the county ever wanted to sell.

Other requests from 4-H include a shell building, estimated at $97,000; a BBQ pit, estimated at $23,000; and parking area improvements, estimated at $10,000 for a total of $130,000 worth of improvements.

Pittman said all this is just a theory at this point, but the county and 4-H are working to have it all put in an agreement.

Any agreement between the county and 4-H would be contingent on the county obtaining a special use permit from Columbus and any environmental testing of the 4-H property.

The timing

Gage asked Pittman if the county could get a good facility before he is out of office.

“Can this be accomplished before I get out of office,” Gage asked. “And get a good facility?”

Gage, Holbert and Owens’ terms will end following the November general election when three new commissioners will be elected. Gage and Holbert decided not to run for re-election and Owens was recently appointed to the board to fill the unexpired term of commissioner Tom Pack, who died in March. Pack was also not running for re-election.

Pittman said the project could be under contract before the commissioners go out of office.

Holbert said it seems like the county has procrastinated on a new jail.

“Now we’re not in a planning mode,” Holbert said, “(we’re) almost in a crisis mode due to lack of planning.”

Bradley asked Gasperson about his thoughts on financing. Gasperson said he wants a referendum and to look at other sites even if it’s outside the town limits.

“What we’re looking at here is a fast track option,” said Gasperson.

Bradley asked Gasperson if a referendum didn’t pass, what move he would make then. Gasperson said he would step back and ask what the county could do about the costs; maybe spread the costs over a few years.

“You would have my commitment,” Gasperson told Bradley. “I would work with you and the other board members.”

Gasperson said the new board could focus its attention on a new jail instead of other projects, such as a new wall around the courthouse and wait on water line extensions to help the costs of the new jail.

“I want to make sound judgment where we locate all this so we can all be proud of it,” Gasperson said.

Bradley said his problem is the county has already waited and waited on this.

“I think we need to move forward,” Bradley said.

Bradley asked if commissioners are talking about getting everything done by November, including the loan and land acquisition.

Pittman said he will do his very best.

“I’m going to do my dead level best if that’s what the board wants me to do,” Pittman said. “This is too big of a decision.”