MONROE — Captain Lori Pierce with the Union County Sheriff’s Office made a presentation to the Union County Board of Commissioners on the current situation at the Union County Jail on May 1.
“We need a jail now,” she said. “We need a 600-bed facility built now. If we start the planning phase we are easily looking at 5 to 6 years to build it.”
The current jail facility was built in 1994 and has a capacity of 264 inmates. The population of the county has tripled since the mid-’90s. “Our average population is about 240,” said Pierce, “about 200 males and 35 females.”
Commissioner Melissa Merrell said: “I have a concern when you say now, that contradicts your understanding that it is going to take 5 to 6 years and I am a little confused on the daily average and I do understand that our population has tripled.”
Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said: “We do know it can’t happen now, but you can’t base building a new jail on population.
The jail is falling apart.”
The cost of maintaining the old building keeps adding up. There are a lot of plumbing issues, fire alarms have been refurbished, HVAC repairs have been made. “Kitchen renovations, capital improvements that are planned, other expenses, all of the plumbing we have had to deal with,” said Pierce. “We are pushing almost $6 million.
“We have lost water on multiple occasions, because of the main water line on 74. When it breaks, when the Jail is out of water, we are at the mercy of public works to get it back up.
The current generator is also 30 years old,” she said, “it cannot support the jail or the jail administrative area, so when we lose power we are barely treading water.”
“We cannot house 264 inmates because of housing needs,” Pierce said. “Certain inmates have to be housed single cell,” said Lt. James Maye, “due to medical conditions, mental health conditions.” Maye said the Jail stays near capacity. “We work closely with the DA’s office to try to keep our population down however we don’t want to be in the position where we have to release inmates that are going to commit more crime to the street because of a housing issue,” May said. “Coupled with the constant maintenance needs, repairs, and replacements that are going on, that is why we are working hard to try to get the planning process for this new facility underway.”
“We are just putting a band-aid on it,” said Sheriff Cathey. “We are putting about $5 to 6 million in maintenance into the Jail now. We are behind, but I don’t mean a little bit behind. We are not starting until 2024 to even plan.”
Completion of the construction on a new facility then would be close to 2030. The current “Jail facility I don’t think is going to last until then,” said Cathey.
“The issue is the original plan was to use the site to try to build in components,” said County Manager Brian Matthews. “We would love to be able to say let’s build it, and let’s start now. It’s a matter of funding and usually, jails don’t do well on referendums. The board has to make the decision, if you are going to put funding towards this, then whatever rate adjustments have to come with that or where do we find the money to pay for that? We are trying to give a plan that can be sustained financially.
“Instead of $130 million today it is spread over time. The start would be you put $2 million in the scope and the planning to decide where is the best location for it. Part of the funding that is set aside for 2024 is scoping and planning, where to put it, how do you make that work and 2025 is a full engineering design and then start construction in 2026.”
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