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NASHVILLE — Nash County commissioners last week unanimously agreed to accept two of the three architectural options presented on improvements to the county’s detention center, saving the third option for another generation, and adopted a resolution to borrow up to $10.5 million to pay for them.
The board, which received the report from Moseley Architects of Charlotte only a week earlier, decided March 11 to take immediate action on recommended renovations within the current detention center and build a 94-bed, one-story annex to the facility. The combined improvements, which Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis said could take two years to complete, would upgrade the aging facility and improve its safety and security in response to concerns raised by Sheriff Keith Stone.
The county jail, built in 1979 and expanded twice in the 1990s, has a capacity of 258 beds but was limited to only 56 in December after it failed a state inspection. After the county and sheriff’s office completed work on a long list of maintenance and operational deficiencies, state officials have gradually restored capacity to 172 at the sheriff’s discretion.
The Moseley study, commissioned by the county in November before the failed inspection, evaluated the center’s condition, estimated its needs to the year 2040 and made specific recommendations to meet those needs. The report calculated that the detention center would need 403 beds by 2040 to meet operational classification and housing needs.
The study said renovating the current detention center and adding the annex would bring the total number of beds to 324. A “phase two” third option would be to build an additional two-story building to house 209 beds and meet other operational needs, but commissioners decided not to act on that option until it becomes necessary years from now.
“Some (other) board would be looking at that in 2040,” Davis said. “No one know what will be in the future.”
“There are a number of things in the next 20 years that may or may not make that not necessary,” noted Commissioner Wayne Outlaw.
“Things are changing so fast now that I wouldn’t even be thinking 40 years out,” agreed Commissioner Fred Belfield.
“If we have a facility that the bones of it are sound and where we want it, it would be fiscally responsible,” said Commissioner Sue Leggett.
The Moseley report estimated the cost of renovating the current center would be $2.2 million and the 94-bed annex would cost a projected $7.75 million. The 209-bed third option would cost an estimated $31 million. By comparison, the study calculated an all-new 400-bed jail would cost at least $50 million, not including land acquisition.
Commissioners decided to set aside $10.5 million for the new jail project. Though Davis said he thought construction costs could possibly be less than projected, he also noted other costs were involved, including the costs of housing inmates in jails in other counties during construction.
He also noted that the county already has $1.5 million spent or committed in jail improvements this year prior to the recommendations, and some of the recent repairs overlap the recommendations.
County Manager Zee Lamb said he estimated the jail project could mean a two-cent increase in the county’s property tax rate, but he noted the county could use some of its fund balance or cut future expenses to reduce or avoid the tax increase. He said the county’s bond rating could accommodate the additional debt.
Davis said county finance officer Donna Wood had calculated that a new jail, originally advocated by the sheriff, could add $4.3 million annually to the county’s debt, resulting in a 12-cent increase in the property tax rate.
“We never incurred any debt that size on anything Nash County has ever done,” Davis said.
“Whatever option we choose,” he said, “I would suggest that we immediately direct staff to start finding an architect and form a committee involving all stakeholders. I think we should work together as a team; we need to have as much buy-in from the stakeholders as you can get. I don’t see any grants to build detention centers. We are charged to work together when we are spending taxpayers’ money.”
“If we all work together, we can pull this thing out. We all want what’s best,” said Commissioner Mary Wells. “We want a safe facility, adequately sized, for our employees and the inmates. These people, no matter what they’ve done, are humans as well and need to be treated in that respect. We’ve all got to have a part in this to say we got it right when we’re through.”
After agreeing on what to do, the board adopted a $10.5 million debt resolution and ordered the staff to send out requests for proposals to architects.
Davis said after the meeting he had reviewed the architect’s report with the sheriff and Stone was supportive of the board’s decision on which direction to take. He also said the county was going to make every effort to avoid a tax increase.