Monday, March 12, 2007

The Bay Looking at New Jail

400-bed jail proposed for downtown Bay St. Louis
Mar 9, 2007, 15:57
The Hancock County Board of Supervisors is caught between a rock and a hard place. Last week, the board learned that FEMA determined the Hancock County Jail was less than 50 percent damaged.
The board is now tasked with the duty of restoring the jail at its current Court St. location, and last week it voted to move forward with plans to restore the jail, however, meeting federal guidelines and satisfying future concerns may be more difficult than originally expected.
"We have a dilemma," Board President Rocky Pullman said at a workshop Thursday. "We can rebuild what we had prior to the storm for $3 million, but we have a sheriff who says its going to cost $4 million or $5 million for what we need. Where are we going to get the money? At the end of the day, we just can't afford it."
The purpose of the workshop was for board members to discuss funding sources for all public buildings with FEMA and MEMA officials.
MEMA official Walt Rode told supers the jail was declared 38-percent-damaged.
The determination of the jail being less than 50-percent-damaged means that FEMA will not fund the county to build a new facility.
The county will receive $629,902 from FEMA and the county has already collected $1.79 million in insurance for the jail.
Sheriff Steve Garber said Thursday that the money may restore what the county had, but it will not be enough.
"Before we jump up and do something, there are things we have to address," he said.
Garber said the jail capacity was at 132 inmates before the storm, but at times he had more than 150 inmates. He said parking was always a problem, as well as office space, and federal guidelines will mandate certain things in the jail be upgraded.
"Nothing has changed," he said. "We need to fix these problems while everything is still tore up. On the jail, you have no choice. The federal government is not going to allow you to just put back what you had."
Garber said he expects the inmate population to increase over the next five years and he suggested expanding to a 200-bed facility.
FEMA officials went a step further and said with the expected growth in the county, the sheriff may want to consider a facility as large as 400 beds.
Supers asked FEMA officials if updating to federal standards was covered by FEMA.
FEMA official David Smith said the 50 percent number is only "sticks and bricks."
He suggested the county try some creative funding sources.
One suggestion was to make the jail an "improved project" which would make the county eligible for federal grant money, Rode said.
One way to better use the square footage of the current jail is to move the daily operations of the sheriff's office out of the building.
Garber said the county may want to inquire about purchasing adjacent properties on Court St. or taking property by means of eminent domain.
"We were renting 5,000 square feet of space before the storm," he said Friday. "We need to get that space back somewhere."
Supervisor Jay Cuevas suggested the county inquired about the vacant City Hall Annex just two doors down from the jail.
Supervisor Steve Seymour said he just wants to get things fast tracked on all county buildings.
"We've got to get this done," he said. "I'm tired of getting asked by the public and not having any idea. The people are dying to know there is light at the end of the tunnel."
Pullman said raising taxes is not an option.
"The general public cannot have any more put on them," he said.
Pullman said the sheriff needs to sit down with engineers and give them a "wish list" of what would be needed.
He said once the county knows what they are looking at, then it will try to make it work.
"We got to have a vision," he said. "We don't need a Cadillac, but we do need something that will meet the future needs."
Supervisors consultant Janell Tompkins said the National Institute of Corrections has offered the county a free training program on jail design as well as offering expert assistance in the restoration.
Garber said he would meet with officials from Compton Engineering and report back to the supervisors within a month.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Favre, council plan $16 million ‘make-over’ for Old Town BSL

Bay St. Louis officials have called for bids for a total utility make-over downtown -- a project expected to take two years to complete and cost up to $16 million.
So anxious to get the wheels in motion, City Council members bypassed an offer to view the detailed engineering plans, and opted to put the project out for bids immediately.
Meanwhile, the administration reported that there's a $3.5 million gap in how the city would like to reconstruct the Beach Boulevard roadway in the business district and what federal officials are willing to fund.
The utility work initially involves the area bounded by the CSX tracks, Necaise Street, Highway 90 and South Beach Boulevard. Complete replacement of the hurricane-ravaged natural gas lines, water and sewer pipes, roadway and sidewalks are included.
"We can't tear up all of Bay St. Louis at once, but there will be some significant disruptions," said William D. Lancaster, senior project manager with Neel-Schaffer engineering. Once the work begins this spring, the construction tab will run some $600,000 to $700,000 per month, he said.
His firm has already billed over $109,000 in fees to design the utility replacements.
Meanwhile, Mayor Eddie Favre and Municipal Clerk Harold "Buz" Olsen told council there's a huge disparity between what the administration wants to have Beach Boulevard look like, and what's being funded through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
There's a firm completion date set of July 2008 for the new Beach Boulevard, said the mayor, "But what it's going to look like, that's still up in the air."
Olsen said federal officials are willing only to replace the roadway destroyed in Katrina. The city wants a wider, more sensible layout.
Also up in the air is funding for the seawall replacement – and whether there will be a temporary one constructed to accommodate the new roadway.
"We're still on target for a July ‘08 completion date, but we have no idea what it's going to be," Olsen said.
Council president James C. Thriffiley III said the uncertainty and wait are costing millions – retailers can't get loans to rebuild under such confusion, and the city is missing huge sales and property tax revenue in the meanwhile.
In a related matter, council saw the final application for $7.8 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to re-do and revitalize the waterfront business district. The city is almost assured of getting the grant at this point.
Jimmy Gouras Urban Planning is charging the city $10,000 for the detailed application.
Project components include buying property at the foot of Main Street – or a city land swap to acquire it. A terraced promenade and beachfront park would be built there.
The city also plans to build a two-level parking garage next to the former Fire Dog Saloon, and tuck it behind retail shops.
(Pictures of the Fire Dog Saloon - 45h and 5th down:

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