NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: We have received numerous requests from readers and listeners on the candidates’ positions on the current issues facing the Polk County Detention Center. So, in an effort to educate voters, we posed the following questions to each of the candidates. Because of our space limitations, responses to each question were limited to 200 words and were not edited for grammar or spelling. We thank the candidates for their voluntary participation.
1. Were you in support of the proposed tax to fund the construction of a $10.9 million new jail facility?
Milham: I was in support of the general idea of a new facility due to the constraints of the current jail not having room for expansion and the updates that were required to bring into compliance. I believed that a new facility made sense looking into the future but I could not fully support it as was proposed.
Sawyer: I fully supported the Polk County Quorum Courts decision to allow the Citizens of Polk County to decide if they wanted to pass a sales tax to fund a new Polk County Detention Center. The Citizens of Polk County decided that they did not believe passing a sales tax was our best option. I work for the people of Polk County and I fully support their decision.
Simmons: I did not support the tax to fund a new jail construction and I voted NO.
2. If not, what did you not support as it was proposed?
Milham: One problem that I saw was the high cost of the 100 inmate facility as proposed. I believe that 10 million was too much of a tax burden on our citizens and a 50 inmate facility would be sufficient to meet our needs. The new facility would then have had sufficient room for expansion in the future if needed then. I also believe that the goal of the current administration to fill up a 100 person facility was not in line with the wishes of most people. As law enforcement we need to work smarter instead of just building a bigger facility for people to go and sit there. First we have to be responsible with what we have and put as many of the inmates to work as possible. If elected as your sheriff I will aggressively find ways for inmates to work and repay for their crimes committed against our citizens. Jail should not be a place of rest for them while the hard working citizens of this county are paying for their keep. Taking away someone’s freedom is punishment in itself, but we have the highest recidivism rate of any nation and I believe that we can do more to make jail a place where debts are repaid and in return a place where a person is less likely to return to, further reducing one of the claimed current jail problems.
Simmons: I didn’t support the new jail because I felt the cost and size was excessive. We are taxed enough as it is. I heard several different figures as to what the cost would be and for me, there were too many unanswered variables. There were numerous locations that were looked at getting closer to the vote that should have been decided long before it went to the people. Not knowing if the land was going to be donated or knowing what the land would cost for the project was not good. Should have been better planning before the process got started.
3. Do you support amending the current facility or the construction of a new facility?
Milham: Since the jail tax has now failed twice I would like for an estimate to be obtained for the cost to bring the current jail into compliance and then I will ask our quorum court to provide the funds to bring into compliance. I know that it will take time to save the needed money to accomplish this and it will be difficult, but this is what we all have to do with our personal budgets to live within our means and it will have to be done on our county government level also. The only other option would be after an estimate is obtained to bring the current jail into compliance, then this cost could be compared against the cost of building a new facility. The new facility would be more in line with our current needs than what was previously proposed. If the cost comparisons are close enough to each other then it may be worthwhile to consider, due to the benefit of the new facility meeting our needs well into the future. I believe that this would not be able to be done without at least a temporary tax and I would have to have clear and compelling evidence that the citizens wanted this before I would support another tax proposal.
Sawyer: I believe that our best option now is to update and add onto our current facility. I believe that adding onto and updating our current facility will be the most cost effective way to keep the Polk County Detention Center open. It will meet the new standards that the State of Arkansas has set for Detention Centers. It will also be acceptable to the budget conscious citizens of Polk County.
Simmons: I support fixing the current jail we have. What concerns me is the fact that this jail was emptied after the tornado of 2009 and there was a construction crew working to get it fixed. I wish they would have fixed the issues then. The jail had to pass standards when it reopened, so what has happened in the last five years that has brought this issue to a head? I feel we need to make every effort to keep our current jail in compliance before asking the people to fund a new facility.
4. If you support the construction of a new facility: a) Do you have official estimates from contractors? b)What are your top three choices of location?
Milham: I have no official estimates for a new facility that would be more in line with what I believe fits our needs better, nor do I know if support exists from the citizens for this approach. As outlined above I believe that the first order is to obtain an estimate for the current facility renovation and possible expansion as a starting point. The county judge or quorum court are the ones with the authority to authorize a study of this and at this time I am not aware of any plans formerly proposed.
Simmons: I am not totally against a new facility but I feel it needs to be within reason when it comes to cost and size. I think a 40-50 man cell would be sufficient with the ability to add on. But again, it all comes down to the people and what they want. I don’t have the ability to come up with estimates for new construction or rehabbing the current jail. To take those kinds of bids I would have to work with the Quorum Court and I’m not the current department head to be able to do it. As far as location, it needs to be as close to the court house as possible for safety reasons to get the prisoners to court. That’s why I really favor fixing the one we have. Example: The Kitchen needs a vent hood with fire suppression system. A 4’ hood complete with fire system averages less than 4,000 (new) plus installation. One step at a time is how we approach it.
5. How will your plan (modifications to existing building or new construction) be funded?
Milham: Funding for this is the big question and will require much thought from the quorum court to budget the necessary funds to provide a facility for the sheriff’s office. I believe that we have a great county judge and quorum court and if the decision is made to proceed with updating the current jail then they will be the best team possible to accomplish this. I believe that they can budget and come up with the renovation funds, but the big question that everyone has to remember is that the money is limited and the sheriff’s office is only one part of the county government that they are required to budget for. Again this will take some time to accomplish as not to put undue strain on other county departments. If elected as sheriff I will work hard to help the quorum court in every way possible by providing my years of law enforcement experience and administrative experience gained with my present employer LHC Group. I plan on going straight to work and my goal is to assist the current administration if they allow and to have a workable plan in place before I take office in 2017, if elected.
Sawyer: I have reviewed cost estimates for remodeling and renovating the current facility, current and projected Polk County income sources, and Polk County budgets. I believe that we can update our current facility using existing sources of revenue. I believe that this is the plan that the people of Polk County want and I believe that it can be done.
Simmons: It is up to the Quorum court to come up with funding. They are the ones who vote and decide on the sheriff’s office budget. As far as the department, the only thing we can do is be conservative when it comes to the money allocated and do the best we can if we don’t have support of the JP’s and County Judge. One of the other things we can do is work with our judges and prosecutors to try and get outstanding fines paid. There is a LARGE amount of money that is outstanding. Police don’t write tickets or make arrests for revenue and we WILL NOT do that on my watch but we need to work with the people who are behind and coming up with ideas to get them caught up. Plus, it would help a lot of people who have lost their driver’s license get them back and help end the vicious cycle that some people fall in.
6. Outside of the jail issue, what will your top three priorities be if elected?
Milham: I will make a top priority to make sure that the outlying communities receive the service that they deserve. Places such as the south part of the county away from the county seat have not had proper law enforcement presence at times in the past and I will make sure that we serve the entire county with an increased presence.
Another top priority of mine will be to serve as a resource to our schools and young people. I have a real desire to reach out to the children who are not being raised in in good situations and do not have good family role models in their lives. In my law enforcement career I have spent many hours in our school system and worked with children in many different settings. I will continue to be available to teach programs in the schools and to work with our youth. Our youth are our leaders of tomorrow and our investment in them today does pay dividends.
Sawyer: 1) Serving the Citizens of Polk County efficiently and effectively will always be my top priority. 2) Property crimes and drug use/abuse have a symbiotic relationship. Reducing one will help reduce the other. I support a multi-pronged approach to combatting drug use and will make this a top priority for my administration. Education, intervention, drug court, probation, and incarceration. 3) Working with and educating our children has been a hallmark of my Law Enforcement career. As a DARE instructor, Smart Choices instructor, and Be a Winner instructor, I’ve spent countless hours teaching area children. I’ve helped create and implement SRO programs in area schools, trained school administrators and staff in the RAVE panic alarms and active shooter protocol, and helped train local law enforcement in school incident response. I will continue to work hard to keep the children of Polk County safe.
Simmons: Top three issues – a) We’re going to do our best to provide coverage 24 hours a day. b) Cases that are getting reported to the sheriff’s office are going to be worked and in a timely manner. Every attempt will be made to solve all crimes and present the prosecuting attorney with quality cases for prosecution. It is important to me that the conviction rate has an increase through quality work done by the deputies. Quality work comes from providing quality training to the officers. Such training can come from the Criminal Justice Institute, Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and others. c) Rebuilding relations with the community and have an excellent working relationship with all departments and agencies. The safety of the people of Polk County is important me and making it a team effort with everyone involved including the community is a top priority.
My 33 years experience and working with seven different police departments, six prosecuting attorneys and five different judges on a regular basis shows that I can work with people for a common goal.