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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