Lack Of Funding,
To Cause Concern
For County Officials
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
In an ongoing but murky march forward, the Greene County Commission continued on Monday to consider how to address the overcrowding and decertification of the Greene County Detention Center.
The commission held a workshop to hear an architectural proposal for a new $40 million Justice Center from Moseley Architects and Hodge Associates which would include a jail, a courthouse and the Sheriff's Department.
The workshop took place at 3 p.m. in the Criminal Courtroom of the Greene County Courthouse, prior to the 6 p.m. meeting of the Greene County Commission (Please see related article, on Page ???)
The Courthouse/Workhouse Committee, which met jointly with the Budget & Finance and Law Enforcement committees on Friday, asked for the full commission to hear this presentation in preference to two other presentations also heard by the committees on Friday.
After hearing the presentation Monday, followed by some brief discussion about funding, the commission was left with one question voiced by Commissioner Tim White: "Where do we go from here?"
Silence greeted this question until, finally, Commissioner Bill Dabbs responded, "Forward."
With that, the meeting adjourned with no clearer picture.
No action could be taken in the workshop, since it was not a formal meeting.
But a motion by Commissioner Nathan Holt did prompt the commission to vote 17-3 during the subsequent County Commission session to hold another workshop in April to also hear a presentation from Cope Architecture, partnered with Municipal Capital Markets Group, Inc. (MCM), and Bell & Associates Construction.
Commissioners John Waddle, Jan Kiker and Robin Quillen voted against hearing this proposal.
Mayor Alan Broyles had requested the three County Commission committees to hear and consider all three proposals on Friday as possible ways to fund a new jail that might be an alternative to funding a new facility with a property tax increase.
Greeneville architect Dave Wright, who has worked with the county on detention center projects for a number of years, explained that each of the three companies had been asked to make a presentation based on the $40 million amount so that there would be an even comparison.
Sheriff Steve Burns emphasized on Monday that this was not, however, to say that this would be the center's actual cost. He noted that it could be more or less.
Dan Mace, Moseley's Vice President, reminded the commissioners that they are "between a rock and a hard place," because of the decertification of the Greene County Detention Center in 2012 by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) as a result of overcrowding.
The decertification greatly increases the county's liability in the event of lawsuits related to the jail and, according to TCI officials. could potentially result in a judge's ordering the county to build a new facility.
In addition, Greene County is not able to follow the traditional government practice of selling bonds to obtain funds for a new facility or extensive renovations because the county's capacity to borrow is already at a maximum, Budget Director Mary Shelton has explained.
As a result, Mace proposed that the county hire his firm, in partnership with Hodge Associates and Wright, to design the new facility before seeking bids from contractors and -- perhaps most importantly -- private developers who could fund the project under a lease-to-own option for the county.
"What we're trying to propose is, let competition reign," Mace said. "Wouldn't you rather pay $2 million a year instead of $3 million?"
Mace had already in hand a layout proposal for the jail should the county choose to purchase land and build a new facility.
He noted a very similar design that his firm, which specializes in jails and justice centers, built in eastern North Carolina in 2007.
He presented these architectural plans, which he said would give the county a jump-start on the project should they go in that direction.
In addition, at Broyles' request, he agreed to consider cost-analysis proposals for conversion of the former Magnavox Plant #3/Philips Consumer Electronics Co./Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, LLC building as a jail.
Broyles explained that he was requesting this analysis based on constituent interest.
If the architectural firm should complete these plans and be unable to find a developer for the county, this "Phase One" work would be at no cost to the county, Mace said.
However, if the county should decide to abandon the project after the Phase One work had been done, the cost would be at least $72,500, with some possible additional charge for consideration of the Magnavox plant, Mace confirmed.
Normally, however, the firm's fee of 5 to 6 percent of the construction costs would be included within the full project total and would be wrapped into the lease-to-own payments.
Commissioner Robert Bird questioned if the "project total" included all final furnishings and needed items. Mace confirmed that it did.
He noted that the firm offers a designated project website and 3-D mapping of the building's proposed layout, and would also train the Sheriff's Department personnel in how to properly use and staff the new facility.
"I think we think your plan is wonderful," Commissioner Robin Quillen said. "The two other firms we listened to, we would either be making a payment in 24 or 30 months. I just don't see how we can."
"We've got to move forward," Bird replied.
"I know we've got to move forward, but we've got to pay for it," Quillen said.
Thus far, the only funding proposal has been to fill any expansion or new facility with state and federal inmates, for which the county receives payments for housing.
Sheriff Burns has said that he can make a profit on these payments, but no one has yet been able to guarantee that the revenue would be sufficient to cover the cost of the facility improvements.