County commissioners talk jail options

Jeremy Nash

After falling silent earlier this month on a proposal from the jail study committee to build a standalone facility at Centre 75, Loudon County Commission discussed other options Monday that are less costly than the $31 million project.

Some commissioners favored the $17 million option on the current site that would provide 275 beds, a sally port and more parking spaces. The plan would include moving Loudon County Fire & Rescue Squad.

“Governments, schools, have a propensity to build for the moment,” Commissioner Bill Satterfield, who also serves on Loudon County Corrections Partnership Committee, said. “We build a lot of buildings and as soon as they get occupied they’re full, like schools and jails, simply because this seems to be a cost-savings measure just to build for what you need right now.
“A few days down the road we’ve still got more people,” he added. “I’m not for going out there and saying we’re going to do just enough to get by with and build for what we need the numbers on this paper right now and not planning any kind of future growth in population.”
Commissioner Van Shaver said the county should consider adding 50-60 more beds to the current site to alleviate overcrowding, and noted 275 was too many to consider. A $17 million project might result in a 6- to 8-cent property tax increase, he said.
“We did that whole gigantic thing we did there last time for $4 million,” Shaver said. “Now I know that’s been 10-12 years ago, but that’s a far cry from $4 million to $17 million.”
Loudon County Jail has 91 beds, but has been decertified since June.
The project that could have potentially been located in Centre 75 would have included a new 350-bed jail with accommodations for Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, court clerk space, attorney offices and courtrooms in one location.
Commissioner Leo Bradshaw agreed with Satterfield that commission should “build the doggone $17 million” facility, which would allow the jail to get back into compliance with Tennessee Corrections Institute. A second phase could focus on the judicial side of the project, he said.
“How do you pay for this? This is so simple, this is not complicated — $10 million? $15 million?” Shaver said. “Is there six votes to raise property taxes for a jail expansion?”
Commissioners asked Loudon County Budget Director Tracy Blair about the possibility of deferring payments to allow property tax pennies to free up. She said debt can be issued in stages, but ultimately commission still needs to make a commitment on revenue.
Shaver said commissioners need to consider a tax increase first, noting the $17 million project could end up being $20 million. He said somebody on commission would need to be prepared to make a motion for a property tax increase for fiscal year 2017-18.
“We’ve got Lisa Niles we’re going back to court in December, which could cost us two or three more pennies,” Shaver said. “You’ve got Tate & Lyle sitting over there at $1.4 million to cost you seven more pennies. So this isn’t happening in a vacuum. If there are people that are ready to put a property tax on the residents of Loudon County we need to be aware this isn’t going to be the end of it if we’ve got to do all these other things. So now you’re talking about 20, 25, 30 cents to meet all these obligations that’s being discussed.
“So, don’t just think of this by itself,” he added. “Everybody’s talking about thinking in the future, thinking in the future. Well, we better think in the future. That’s thinking, and that’s hard on people.”
Chairman Steve Harrelson posed the idea to withhold moving forward with a property tax increase until next spring when all issues facing the county can be addressed at the same time.
“I would like to have more information about the situation we’re in before we vote on that because if we were going to vote — in my opinion — if you were going to do one you would like to have all of the information as much as you can, and (if) you’re going to have a tax increase you have one and not two or three,” Commissioner Matthew Tinker said.
Commissioner Kelly Littleton-Brewster said she wants to consider implementing a wheel tax as an alternative for a property tax increase.
“There’s several pieces of the puzzle that we need to consider,” Harrelson said in a follow-up interview. “We have a tight budget coming up. There’s some talk of maybe we need to increase the taxes a little bit to meet the budget obligations, and we’re also looking at a tax increase for the jail. That’s just two big pieces of the puzzle that we need to discuss together and not necessarily keep them two separate pieces, you know what I’m saying? ... I think it’s important to address the jail part as we’re discussing the budget.”