Rhea County leaders eye new jail at current site

Rhea County leaders eye new jail at current site

November 23rd, 2012 by Tom Davis in Local Regional News

Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal

Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

DAYTON, Tenn. - Rhea County commissioners this week agreed to consider building a jail on the site of the current one despite the sheriff's promise that a new facility would allow him to pay for the project with no additional tax support.

Sheriff Mike Neal told commissioners that housing more prisoners in a new justice center at a new site, plus increased litigation taxes, could produce additional revenue of $511,000 per year. A new building at the present site would cost $63,000 per year more than revenue gained.

"I've showed them what to do so they could build without raising taxes," Neal said Tuesday after the meeting. "Some of them want to raise taxes and blame the sheriff's department."

But Commissioner Bill Hollin, who introduced the motion to study building on the present site, said he wants "to see us come together and do something. I don't think we're ready to put $16 million or $17 million [in a jail] out of town." His motion, he added, does not preclude the possibility of relocating the jail.

District Attorney General Mike Taylor recounted work by the Jail Committee over the past several years, including studies by the TWH Architects firm on the county's options.

"They said the most expensive option for the county was a jail or justice center downtown," he said. "The Jail Committee recommended we stop looking at downtown and reported that to the full commission. The best option was to go off-site and build a 200-bed jail or justice center."

Courthouse security

Taylor said that, while the jail is overcrowded, the historic courthouse is not designed to provide the security for court personnel, lawyers and witnesses that is needed in an increasingly violent society.

"If you are going to move forward, you have to look at the jail and courthouse," he said.

Commissioner Emmaly Fisher, whose district includes downtown Dayton, said she is concerned that moving the courthouse would devastate area businesses and "hurt the whole county."

She said she has had more calls about this issue than any other and her constituents tell her, "You probably have to do something, but how are you going to pay for it?" Commissioners Ron Masterson and Grover Parks said they have had similar experiences.

"Based on the financial situation the county is in, trying to find a solution to use the courthouse and attempt to correct overcrowding at the jail until the county is in better financial situation looks about six years down the road," Masterson said.

Commission Chairman Jim Reed said no date has been set for the board to act on the matter.