Many Would Favor
$40 Million Facility;
Financing An Issue
By TOM YANCEY
Members of three Greene County Commission committees on Wednesday studied ways to keep state certification in place for the Greene County Detention Center.
They expressed a preference for a 332-bed proposed facility, but remained unsure about how to fund it.
Greene County officials have been told by the Tennessee Correctional Institute that they must have a plan in place by Sept. 12 to deal with inmate crowding, or face loss of certification.
Loss of certification would increase the county government's legal vulnerability, and cause financial problems because fewer federal and state inmates could be housed in a "decertified" jail.
Members of the Law Enforcement Committee, the Budget Committee and the Courthouse/Workhouse Committtees met jointly to hear a report from architect Dave Wright and County Sheriff Steve Burns, who have been working on various options for a new detention center, or jail, and justice center for the court on a new site.
The committees were told that the U.S. Marshal's Service can provide at least 100 more federal inmates on a continuing basis, if beds are available for them.
They were also told that the U.S. Department of Justice may be able to increase the $48 per day fee that the county is paid for housing federal inmates, during and after construction.
At the end of the meeting, the three committees was still trying to come up with ways to cover the cost without increasing property taxes, but had agreed that the "ideal" size for a new detention center, at least initially, would be 332 beds.
The cost of that size of jail, plus a four-courtroom justice center, sheriff's office and clerk's offices, would be roughly $40 million, they were told.
$40 Million Cost Estimate
The annual cost of a 30-year bond for $40 million could be in excess of $3 million per year, the three committees were told.
County Mayor Alan Broyles agreed to try to have Rick Dulaney, of Nashville, a bond specialist with Morgan Keegan Cumberland Securities, come to Greeneville to meet with the committees as soon as next week, to talk about ways to reduce the cost.
Commissioner Jerry Weems chaired the joint meeting. Last week, the three committees asked architect Wright to provide figures on various options.
Wright on Wednesday produced figures on several size configurations. All of the proposals included not only new jail cells, an administrative area and kitchen, but also a new sheriff's office, four new Circuit Court courtrooms and new offices for the Circuit Court clerk.
Wright said the cost includes fixtures and furnishings, but not land.
The consensus of the committees over the last several meetings has seemed to favor a 54-acre tract at the intersection of Hal Henard Road and U.S. Highway 11E, which is being offered to the county for $1.5 million.
Burns said a Kingsport appraisal firm that is qualified to appraise large parcels, Bailey & Associates, appraised the property at $1,154,000. The appraisal was based on three comparable tracts, including one at Interstate 81's exit 23.
That works out to just over $21,000 per acre. Burns said one comparable tract sold for $24,000 per acre, and another for $21,000.
He said that the appraisers also noted that the agreement that the county government tentatively has with the owner, Wayne Hartman, "brings the cost pretty much in line."
Hartman has agreed to let the county pay 15 percent or 20 percent down, Burns said, and to carry the balance for 10 years, with the county paying interest 1 percent below what it would cost to issue a bond.
Wright said the building cost estimates he presented would work for two-person cells, or several other configurations.
* a 220-bed jail, at $34,918,000, or $212 per square foot. Wright said the national average construction cost for jails is said to be $216.
* 332 beds for $40,490,000, or $216 per square foot.
* 444 beds for $46,428,000, or $218 per square foot.
* 556 beds, for $62,599,000, or $221 per square foot.
Wright said a design that size will need additional kitchen space.
Wright told the committees that additional, unfinished "shells" that, if completed, could hold 110 beds, can be added to any of the above configurations "for just over $1 million per shell."
These shells would have walls and a roof, but probably a gravel floor, he said.
Wright had also been asked to find out about needed core borings and other studies to see if the site is suitable. He said S&ME, an engineering firm that specializes in this work, told him 30 to 40 borings can be done for $15,000 to $20,000, and the phase one environmental study will cost another $4,500.
Wright said the site is farmland now, and "looks clean" from an environmental standpoint. He added that he and the engineers are confident that "no issues" will surface from the study.
Sheriff Burns said the 556-bed option "would be great, but is probably out of the question" because of the county government's financial condition. He also said that if a 1,000-bed jail could suddenly appear, it would be able produce enough revenue "to build two schools."
Burns said he would like to see the commission consider building as many jail cells as it can fund, and be prepared to make changes and/or additions as opportunities come along.
Burns said 220 new inmate beds, plus the existing workhouse, "would get us started" but would not be ideal.
Weems asked how 220 new beds would generate enough revenue to pay for itself.
"We would have to use the (existing) jail for a while," Burns answered.
Weems asked if that would require hiring new jailers. Burns said it is his goal not to hire any additional staff, and said he thinks that efficiencies created by a better design at a new building will make that possible.
Burns said having to have utilities at both sites will create some additional costs, but those will be offset by additional revenue.
Jeff Hedden, the U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, was present for most of the meeting.
$48 Per Day Per Inmate
Hedden said the $48 per day rate that Sheriff Burns recently negotiated with federal correctional officials would be a "windfall for the county" and will help pay for a new detention center.
Until the increase this spring, the federal government was paying Greene County $38.86 per inmate, per day.
The new budget obligates revenue based on housing an average of 54 federal inmates per day, Sheriff Burns said. That budget is scheduled for a vote on Aug. 18.
The actual average number of inmates is expected to be ibetween 80 and 90, even without arranging for additional prisoners, Burns said. The new budget already allocates any revenue above the 54 inmate average for jail renovation or construction.
Adding INS Inmates?
Hedden said he has also had talks with the Immigration and Naturalization Service about what may be another source of prisoners and revenue.
The federal marshal said that, if enough beds are available, he believes the INS would be willing to temporarily house deportees at the Greene County Jail while they await transport by bus or plane. Burns indicated that this source of inmates would be a good solution.
Hedden said he currently has charge of 140 federal prisoners housed in Greene and Washington counties, and on Tuesday, "82 of them were right here" in Greeneville, a block from the federal courthouse.
Weems asked Hedden if he is sure that he can supply 100 more prisoners, above the 82. Laughter erupted in the conference room when Hedden answered, "Well, do you accept the premise there are 12 million illegal immigrants in this country?"
When the laughter subsided, Weems asked, "Can I take that as 'yes?' " Hedden said, "Yes."
Burns said he has considered as potential revenue sources not only federal inmates and deportees from the INS, but also possibly juvenile offenders, and prisoners with "medical special needs."
categories may be "more trouble than they're worth," Burns said, adding that he believes the county
government would be "better off housing inmates."
Hedden said he can "work with the sheriff" to renegotiate per diem rates upward, "once we get a plan." A new facility would likely qualify for a higher rate than the current detention center, he said.
Hedden said the county government also can get "a higher rate than $48" per day from the Detention Trust Fund during construction.
In addition, he said, the federal government could temporarily raise the fee in exchange for guaranteed space in the jail "at a certain price" for a specified period.
This "up front" money could also help with construction costs.
In the past, Hedden said, the federal government has at times given grants to help with jail construction, but that program is not funded at this time.
"The Department of Justice has been pro-active in trying to fund initiatives" that lead to more inmate space, when it is in the government's interest, the U.S. marshal said.
In this case, the government has a need for space close to U.S. District Court in Greeneville, he said.
Sheriff Burns said he and County Attorney Roger Woolsey have tried to get an interpretation on a recent change in state law that gives all counties the option of enacting up to $50 in litigation fees, without requiring additional action by the legislature.
Greene County already has several litigation fees, Burns noted. The county has $10 and $15 litigation fees that cover law enforcement equipment and supplies, and a separate $15 fee for courthouse security.
Members of the three committees agreed to meet again on a called basis when Dulaney is available, and when more information about litigation fees and the land is available.