Recent State Action
To Decertify The
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
County government fund balances are not as strong as many would like, the county would have to have additional revenue if it wants to issue a bond, and the cost of building or expanding a jail facility will likely be significant.
These are known financial realities about the overcrowded -- and now decertified -- county jail situation, but where to go from there is still up for debate by the Greene County Commission.
"Doing nothing is not an option anymore," Commissioner John Carter told fellow commissioners on Monday.
Carter is one of five commissioners on the county's Courthouse/Workhouse Committee, which oversees issues involving the Greene County Detention Center, frequently referred to as the jail.
This committee was scheduled to meet with two other committees, the Budget & Finance Committee and the Law Enforcement Committee, for a followup on last week's joint meeting, in order to continue reviewing options to address the recent decertification of the detention center.
The Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control decertified the center last month, largely because of overcrowding.
Decertification does not prevent the jail from operating but potentially threatens substantial revenues that the county currently earns from the boarding of state and federal prisoners.
In addition, decertification increases the county's vulnerability in the event of lawsuits filed by inmates.
A $3 million federal lawsuit has been filed which cites overcrowding as a contributing factor to an incident that occurred when the jail was still certified.
Only a handful of commissioners were present at Monday's meeting.
Present from the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee were Carter, Chairman Fred Malone, Commissioner Tim White, and ex-officio member Sheriff Steve Burns.
Commissioners Hilton Seay, Robin Quillen, and Wade McAmis were also present at the meeting, along with Mayor Alan Broyles and Budget Director Mary Shelton.
Law Enforcement Committee members include Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers (who was present just before the start of the meeting but left as it began), Burns, Carter, Jimmy Sams (who also serves on the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee), Rennie Hopson, Phil King (who also serves on Budget & Finance Committee), Quillen, McAmis and Seay.
Budget & Finance Committee members include Broyles, Robert Bird, M.C. Rollins, King, Seay and Shelton.
Bird was at last week's meeting and told the committees he would be unable to attend on Monday because of a scheduling conflict.
During the last meeting, the committees met at the former Magnavox Plant #3 building, located at the intersection of Industrial Road and Kiser Boulevard, to discuss a proposed operating lease for half the building, with an option to purchase at the end of the lease.
The county's financial adviser, Rick Dulaney, of Morgan Keegan & Co., announced that the owner, Charles White, was asking for a 20-year, $16.65 million lease, followed by a purchase option of $8.75 million.
The Courthouse/Workhouse Committee voted to decline this offer but expressed further interest in the building at a lower price.
Mayor Broyles announced on Monday that Charles White had agreed to a capital lease, rather than an operating lease, and had said he would drop the final purchasing price of $8.75 million if the county paid the lease through 2031.
Budget Director Shelton explained that a capital lease would allow the county to defer payments for three years until the project was complete and revenue was coming in from the housing of additional state and federal inmates.
While Dulaney tentatively agreed with county officials that adding more of these inmates into a larger facility could potentially increase revenues enough to make payments, he discouraged the committees from relying on this without further study.
Via a teleconference on Monday, he recommended that either the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) or a certified public accounting firm review the proposal. Dulaney also cautioned that it may also not be a tax-exempt project.
In addition, "Everybody would need to understand that any shortfall [in revenue to make payments] would have to come out of the county's other revenue," he added.
Dulaney estimated the total cost of the capital lease and upgrades to turn the warehouse into a jail would be about $74 million over the life of the transaction, or approximately $4.5 million a year for the jail improvements and up to $1.1 million a year for the lease.
This, he reminded the committees, would only be for about half of the 24-acre building, or about 500,000 square-feet.
The remainder of the building is separated by a firewall.
The county would need to include in the purchase agreement an option to purchase the remainder of the building at a later time, he recommended.
"I'd hate to see [the county] put that kind of investment in for 20 years and only own half a building," Sheriff Burns noted. "That's the scary part."
Burns and others suggested that the committees may want to look at the outright purchase price of the entire building, which most expected would be about the cost of the 20-year lease for half the building.
"The lease would be a lot more expensive," Broyles agreed. He disagreed, however, with looking at the possibility of purchasing.
"We can't, and there's not too much sense of anyone discussing buying because it's impossible," the mayor said, referencing the county's available funds.
In contrast, the lease would let the county pay off an amount over time with payments made by increased revenue that could likely come from additional inmates, he explained.
However, other commissioners suggested researching the same type of lease applying to a new building, an addition to a current building, or other such options.
Commissioner White pointed to the $5.6 million a year payments the county would have to pay -- nearly $500,000 per month.
"Do you know what kind of building we could build for that?' he asked. "The only reason we're considering Maganvox is that we don't have any money."
Many questioned the feasibility of expanding the jail or the workhouse, or of building another facility and continuing to use the current jail to house prisoners as well.
Burns noted that this would have the Sheriff's Department essentially running three jails, and he also highlighted what he said are considerable costs in the upkeep of the current detention center.
At one point, architect Caroline Miller, who has worked with the county's architect, Dave Wright, questioned whether the commissioners had been inside the current center.
"It's awful," she said.
Seay recommended researching the availability and price of land in three locations: in the Mt. Pleasant Industrial Park, near Hardin Park, and off Hal Henard Road.
He also said he has scheduled a time to discuss the possibility of investors with Greene County Partnership President and CEO Tom Ferguson.
Many such options the committee discussed on Monday were ideas that the commission had thoroughly fleshed out in 2007, when the TCI last threatened to remove the center's certification due to overcrowding.
Despite extensive research, the commission did nothing at the end of 2007, and Sheriff Burns instead cut down on the number of federal inmates he had, thereby decreasing both his jail population and the revenue the county receives for housing the federal prisoners.
That is no longer an option when the county now has so many pre-trial inmates that the sheriff is required to house that they alone would overcrowd the jail, he said.
"I don't think there's anything we didn't look at," he said. "Like a Rubik's Cube, I've looked at every combination."
He did suggest, however, that the county consult with Wright, who still has the extensive studies conducted in 2007.
Updating these to today's costs and moving from there may be helpful in moving forward, he said.
'NEED CTAS ANALYSIS'
Carter and White agreed that no further action could reasonably be taken by the committees until CTAS has completed a cost analysis to determine if revenue from the prisoners could cover the payments.
The sheriff agreed with this as well, telling the committee to be certain not to just take his word, but to research everything.
He also reminded commissioners that CTAS normally tells counties that profit cannot be made from the housing of inmates.
If such an expansion of inmates reached a point where more employees would have to be hired, etc., it would cut into any revenue, Burns said.
But he explained his belief he can use basically his same staff in a building with fewer floors to divide the staff.
"Sometimes it doesn't pay to go bigger," he concluded. "I think that's probably where CTAS is coming from."
Broyles announced that he would have a representative from CTAS at the committees' next meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16.