Loudon County committee to review $16-19M jail renovation plans
By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
The Loudon County jail study committee will be reviewing two plans for renovations to the existing jail at a cost of $16 million to $19 million.

At the higher end of the two estimates the plans presented to the committee last week call for almost double the $10 million figure county commissioners were predicting just a few months ago.

Any figure approaching the $20 million range would require a tax increase and will be a hard sell to county commission, according to County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw.

"We just want to deal with the crowding issue and the safety issue," he said.

Not all the improvements have to be made immediately. McMinn County left part of its jail expansion unfinished for future use, he said.

Although some of the improvements need to be done soon to avoid jail decertification, delaying some parts of the project a couple of years would allow the county to retire existing debt, reducing the need for a tax increase, he said.

Both plans prepared by Knoxville architects Michael Brady Inc. at a cost of about $60,000 would have enough space to house 278 inmates. The more expensive plan includes increased space for the courts.

Adding the court space is not only expensive, it could be complicated, Bradshaw said. State law requires circuit court to be located within the county seat, which would be within the city limits of Loudon about a mile from the current jail. The city of Loudon would have to annex the land to bring it within the city limits, he said.

Jail committee member and county commissioner Henry Cullen agreed that commission is going to take a dim view of funding any plan that does more than fix the key problems of overcrowding, inmate classification and officer safety. Additional courtroom space could be problematic, he said.

Cullen said he expects the jail study committee will have focused the plan toward the key objectives by the next meeting on March 2.

Tellico Village resident Richard Anklin, a frequent speaker at county commission meetings, has been analyzing the county's ability to raise funding. At the previous $10 million estimate there was a good chance to fund the project without a property tax increase, he said.

At the time of the tax increase to fund the school building program an additional 8 cents was added to the tax rate. The commission voted last year to return 4 cents back to the taxpayers, leaving 4 cents that could be used to borrow about $8 million without a tax increase.

The county has about $22 million sitting in various funds including $7.3 million in the general fund, $8.9 million in the educational fund, $1.3 million in the capital projects fund and $3 million in other funds, he said.

"We could pay for the relocation, site preparation and driveways with existing cash," he said.

Much of the project, including jail expansion, sally port, driveways, parking lot and relocation of the fire department building, could be started with $8 million borrowed in 2017, he said.

If the other parts of the plan could be postponed until 2018 when existing debt is retired, the project could be done without a tax increase, he said.