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Jail: can we afford it?

Feasability study doesn’t answer most important question

By Greg Bird
birdman@tmcvoice.com

The reveal of the long-awaited results of the jail feasability study Thursday night at the Fiscal Court meeting left one important question unanswered – can we afford it?
DLZ, an architectural firm out of Indianapolis gave a 90-minute presentation on the results of the survey they conducted over the past several months, using national, state and local demographics and incarceration trends.
The result of their review was a recommendation that McCreary County consider building a new jail, but gave no details on how to finance such a project.
Scott Carnegie, a project architect for DLZ opened the discussion with a disclaimer that the study did not delve in to the financial ability of the County to finance and operate a new jail facility. “We don’t make any recommendations on how to pay for things,” Carnegie said before turning the presentation over to his associate, Eric Ratts.
The trend for higher incarceration rates has been growing rapidly since the 1990’s Ratts noted, since the “war on drugs” began, with the majority of the prisoners being held for drug crimes or property violations mostly related to drugs. McCreary County is no different he said.
McCreary County, he said, averages about 82 inmates a day, mostly housed at Leslie County, and the cost to the county is growing. Ratts stated the Fiscal Court paid over $892,000 in 2017 to Leslie County for housing. That figure does not include the limited number of inmates housed in other facilities. For 2018 that total is projected to grow to almost $1.1 million.
Adding in the cost of salaries, fuel and equipment, the total Jail Fund cost for the current year could exceed $1.3 million.
McCreary County is one of 39 counties with a closed jail, Ratts stated, but the majority of those counties are located near to one of four regional jails located in Kentucky.
Ratts noted the trend of state inmates being housed in county jails is increasing and several counties who operate jails rely heavily on inmates from other counties or state prisoners to offset the high costs of operating a facility. Grayson County, he noted, has a 500-bed jail, but houses 400 state prisoners and earns $8 million a year off those inmates.
Based on the data revealed in the study, Ratts’ recommendation was for McCreary County to consider building a 130-bed jail, but he noted the Department of Corrections would likely say at least 150 beds must be built. Such a facility would need about five acres of land, which would also allow room for possible future expansion if desired.
Ratts presented a preliminary concept of a 130-bed facility with an estimated construction cost of between $9.5 to $10.5 million. An additional 25 to 30 percent of the cost would be added to the cost for additional expenses such as land acquisition, environmental studies, utility upgrades, financing and permits.
His estimate for total time to plan, design and construct would be about 2 years once the process had begun. He cautioned the longer the County waited to begin such a project would increase the costs over time. During the construction period the County would still be housing prisoners at other facilities.
If the Fiscal Court decided to pursue building a new jail, one of the first steps would be to hire a financial advisor to put together a plan on how to finance and pay for the project.
The feasibility study has been sent to the Department of Local Government for review with a request for further guidance on how to proceed.
The Fiscal Court had allocated up to $8,000 for the study.

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