DAYTON, Tenn. - Rhea County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to instruct an architect to prepare a sketch of a jail on property adjacent to the current jail and courthouse.
Commissioner Ron Masterson, in pushing the proposal, said information provided by architect David Brown of KBJM Architects Inc. of Mount Juliet, Tenn., would tell commissioners if the project could work on that site.
"It either rules [the site] in or rules it out," he said.
Brown said he could have a preliminary drawing of a building to house 200 inmates with the necessary support facilities for commissioners' consideration by their meeting March 19.
County Executive George Thacker told commissioners that moving forward on relieving overcrowding at the jail is critically important because the jail could be inspected at any time and failing to show progress toward correcting deficiencies could result in the jail's being decertified. He said purchasing property would show progress.
He presented them a letter from Beth Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, to boost his plea for action. The letter says, in part, "decisions to take no action by your local governmental officials to address the inspection findings of the past would in all honesty not be likely seen as some form of 'measurable' progress, Therefore, you could place your certification status in serious jeopardy" by failing to move to correct deficiencies.
Thacker reviewed efforts over the past two years to locate property for a jail or justice center and encouraged commissioners to purchase property offered by Gary Louallen for $350,000. Advantages to that action, he said, included a pledge by Sheriff Mike Neal to use court fees to pay for the property, and the action could postpone a state demand to build a new facility for a year or more.
He said the additional time would allow commissioners to determine how to pay for the project.
Brown told commissioners a detention center housing 200 inmates would cost between $8 million and $10 million, a cost commissioners agreed could not be covered without some type of tax increase.
Commissioner Ron Masterson said, "I'm in full support of building a jail. What I don't know is how we're going to pay for it."
Commission Chairman Jim Reed responded, "The only way we can pay for a jail and [the new high] school is there has to be some kind of tax increase, either a property tax, wheel tax or a combination of both."