BY LEANN DILBECK –
Polk County’s Quorum Court approved by a vote of 11-0 Polk County Sheriff Mike Godfrey’s plan to seek a 1-cent sales tax to construct a new county jail following a recommendation from JP Basil Kesterson on behalf of the Jail Committee. The committee had met July 1 and was given a tour of the facility. The approval of such a tax must ultimately be decided by Polk County voters.
Godfrey gave a step-by-step presentation during the Tuesday night standing room only meeting that included the lengthy list that remains to be accomplished prior to voters ultimately making the final decision on their ballot. Godfrey said he doubts that they will have it prepared in time to be on the November ballot, at which time the JPs will then have to decide whether to wait until November 2015 or to have a special county-wide election.
A “money-pit” was how Godfrey explained the current 34-year old jail that no longer meets state requirements as he outlined the number of items that are not in compliance ranging from inmate over-population, no exercise yard, segregation of inmates, etc. that all mean a “shut-down is inevitable,” Godfrey told JPs. The Sheriff said an inspection is due this Fall.
JP Ben Finley inquired if the Quorum Court was in the process of pursuing a new jail, if that could deter the state from closing the facility. Godfrey said that he had seen that in another Arkansas county and because construction was underway, the state granted them a grace period. Godfrey noted that if a closure of the Polk County facility occurred, based on the current inmate population, it would cost $45,000 per month to outsource inmates to other counties, not including transportation costs for court appearances.
Godfrey shared with JPs a resolution that was approved by the Mena City Council, showing theirsupport, and donation of 6+/- acres in the Industrial Park for construction of a new jail. The property is located on a wooded lot between Brooks Ice Co. and Healthy Connections, Inc. Godfrey said that location was ideal and would remove inmates from a residential area. He said the donation by the City of Mena easily saved the County at least $500,000.
Godfrey explained that they would continue to work in partnership with the Mena Police Department but their offices would remain in the annex adjacent to the Courthouse where they are currently housed.
Godfrey proposed a new 100-bed pod system design that would also include the Sheriff’s Office as well as dispatch, a small courtroom suitable for hearings, infirmary, and a 309 Depository. The 309 Depository would be a possible reimbursable program from the State of trustees that are not from the area and he suspects would improve turn-over.
With the Quorum Courts approval to move forward, the County will defer to Western Arkansas Planning & Development (WAPD) who will prepare the Request for Qualifications advertisement to secure possible builders. Once they have identified the top candidate, WAPD will present to the Quorum Court for approval. Once approved, the builder will come to Mena to do a site-study. The site-study will cost the County approximately $16,000. Once the site-study is completed, the County will then know the exact cost of construction and can move forward having an attorney draft the ordinance that will ultimately appear on the ballot.
Based on the current tax base, a 1-cent sales tax would yield approximately $2.2 million of which Godfrey is requesting ¾-of-a-cent be allocated for jail construction and the remaining ¼-of-a-cent budgeted for jail maintenance and operation. Godfrey said the ¾-of-a-cent tax would dissolve once the jail was paid for but said, ideally, the ¼-of-a-cent would remain and be budgeted strictly for ‘jail maintenance and operation.’
The Quorum Court’s action during tonight’s meeting continues to move the County forward in their pursuit of a new jail, and according to Godfrey, construction costs are continually rising so time is of the essence with a looming jail closure inevitable.
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