Money for new Loudon County jail off the table
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
Funding for a new or expanded jail in Loudon County is off the table for the 2015-2016 budget year, according to county commissioners serving on the jail study committee.
Several commissioners, including Henry Cullen and Bill Satterfield, responded to a question about the jail funding at a meeting of the Loudon County Corrections Partnership, Wednesday.
“There is still a lot of planning to do. I don’t see how we could do it this year,” Satterfield said.
The current jail is facing a state Department of Corrections order to address overcrowding and suffers from other issues related to officer safety and the condition of the facility, according to Sheriff Tim Guider.
Expanding or building a new jail has been estimated at anywhere from $10 million to $43 million, depending on several factors, including how many beds are added and whether new land must be purchased.
Locating the expansion on land adjacent to the Justice Center and already owned by the county is preferable, Commissioner Satterfield said. Other locations discussed include the Center 75 business park or the vacant Maremont industrial building.
Even at the lower estimates, addressing the jail issue would likely require a property tax increase in the range of 10 or 15 cents.
County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said the jail committee is still studying the issue and is not going to be making final decisions anytime soon.
“I don’t see us being close enough to breaking ground to consider a tax increase for funding this upcoming fiscal year,” he said.
Bradshaw said that if there is a tax increase tied to the jail, it won’t last forever.
“If it comes down to a tax increase, and it probably will, I will advocate a sunset clause in the hike that a great majority of it will return to the taxpayers after it’s paid off,” he said.
Bradshaw said the county budget is in good shape overall.
There has been concern on the commission that the county could face a large property tax increase if all the projects under consideration, including the jail, a second general sessions court judge, two judicial commissioners and a half-dozen or more court clerks, are funded.
The commission has not yet made a decision of how to fund the new judge and judicial commissioners but it has been suggested that a litigation tax increase from about $17 to about $70 could fund the additions.
The six new clerks requested by Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles, and backed up by a lawsuit against the county that is now in mediation, are expected to cost up to $250,000. Niles told the committee this week that the addition of the second judge might require hiring even more clerks for her office.
According to Commissioner Van Shaver, the 2015-2016 budget calculations have not accounted for funding Niles’ requests.
“We might have to pass a property tax to pay for it,” he said.
The county budget challenges are more than matched by those facing the school department. This week the school board voted to request an extra $2.1 million to cover increased operating expenses and 4 percent raises for teachers.
Generating an extra $2.1 million could require a property tax increase of up to 20 cents, Shaver said.
If the commission turns down the school board’s request, the schools might have to make significant cuts or resort to transferring money from the school’s emergency fund balance.
If the raises for teachers are funded, it will force the commission to consider providing raises for all county employees, another possible expense not yet accounted-for in the county budget discussions, Shaver said.