BY MELANIE BUCK –
A meeting was held by the Polk County Jail Committee on March 22nd, where County Judge Brandon Ellison laid out a plan that could be presented to Jail Standards Appointee, Sterling Penix, on his next visit in April. The Committee, which is made up of local Justices of the Peace, approved the plan unanimously and will send an appropriations recommendation for funding.
Ellison said there are eight key areas in the current jail that he believes can be worked through, but there are steps to take before that can be known for sure and also, to know the cost of fixing those key areas.
The first step in the process, Ellison said, is to retain an architect to see if the Polk County Detention Center can be made compliant. The retainer for such services is $10,000 and the Committee voted to approve SouthBuild as the architect and the cost of the retainer.
Step two, Judge Ellison explained, would be for the County to fund the cost of any remodels and repairs the current facility would need to become compliant. The Committee voted to send an appropriation recommendation to the full Quorum Court to move $500,000 this year from County General, or earmark the funds for the project. With current tax collections, it is hoped that another $500,000 can be appropriated next year for the project as well.
The concern expressed by some members of the committee is whether bringing the current jail into compliance is going to last long enough to appropriate such large amounts of tax dollars. If the compliance was only to last a couple of years, members do not consider it a feasible plan. Many of those answers will depend on Sterling Penix and may not be known for some time, and the results of the architect’s findings, which is the third step in Ellison’s plan, to see what the architect’s estimates are. From there, the Committee will come back and discuss further steps. Until then, the Polk County Detention Center’s future remains uncertain. Sheriff-Elect Scott Sawyer was at the meeting and said, “Whatever it takes to keep it open is what we’ve got to do, within reason. We don’t want it to come to a point where we have to decide whether to put a rapist or child abuser back out on the streets because we don’t have a facility.”