March 18, 2015 Edition

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WR City Council supports new jail

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

In a 7-1 vote, the Walnut Ridge City Council opted to support Lawrence County in its decision to locate a regional jail facility at the 6.2 acres of green space within the city limits.

The acreage, which is owned by the county, is located at Southwest Sixth Street and West Elm Street. It is the former Sloan Gin site.

Alderman Jeff Taylor called for the discussion on the regional facility and its location to be put on the agenda for the meeting. He said the facility will be located in his ward and he has been inundated with calls expressing concerns about the facility.

Taylor proposed a land swap with the county. He said the city owns around 3,000 acres of land outside the city and if an agreement could be made, he is sure one of those locations would serve well for the facility.

Judge Dale Freeman said that a proposal for the facility at the acreage in Walnut Ridge has already been submitted and the county is fortunate to be in the position it's in. "We're making a bad mistake if we let this slip out of our hands."

Mayor Charles Snapp and Sheriff Jeff Yates both said there are many reasons why the lot in Walnut Ridge is attractive to the state, the largest of which is its proximity to the fire department and the hospital.

"The architects said it was the best place to build," Yates said. "It was a no-brainer for them."

The facility will likely have 250 beds. Snapp explained that though this facility will be larger than a county jail would have been, it will not look like a prison.

"There will be no fences, no guard towers," Snapp said.

Freeman said he believes Walnut Ridge is the right place for the facility as it is the county seat. "I feel like it should be in Walnut Ridge."

Lloyd Clark, who has been serving as jail committee chair for the county, said not only would this facility prevent the county from needing a sales tax to get a new jail, but it also has the potential to be self-sustaining due to revenue received from housing state inmates.

Taylor said he wasn't convinced the county needs a facility this size and it could have negative impacts on tourism and development in the area. He also voiced concerns about what happens with the individuals upon their release.

However, Taylor's major concern with the location is the elimination of one of Walnut Ridge's last green spaces, which he feels could be better used as a park area.

Frank Kelley asked to speak at the meeting and said while he's heard many reasons why this facility is needed, he isn't convinced that it has to be in the city.

Alderman Allen Smith requested the county keep an open mind moving forward with this project and that the last thing he wanted to happen was for him to find out that the facility could have been located elsewhere when he was told it had to be at this location.

"If this has to be put in this spot, then by gosh do it, but if at some point between now and groundbreaking if there is an alternative location, pursue it," Smith said.

The vote was taken on a roll call with Taylor being the only one against it. After the vote, he expressed to the other aldermen that he believes they weren't doing their job as the voice of the people. Several aldermen mentioned that they have not heard the same concerns from the citizens that Taylor has.

The regional jail facility has yet to be approved in Lawrence County as it still has to go through the state legislature. Details about the facility remain few and subject to change.

In other business:

  • the council discussed the benefits policy for aldermen regarding health insurance. City Attorney Nancy Hall said she is not for it or against it but whatever the council decides, there needs to be an ordinance on the books regarding benefits for aldermen. The issue was tabled until next meeting.

  • Taylor announced that a spring clean up has been scheduled for April 6-10. The dumpster will be available at the city shop during that time as well as on Saturday, April 11.

  • Snapp gave the state of the city address, which covered developments before and since he became mayor, as well as some future developments and issues the city faces. Copies of the address are available at city hall, as well as on the city's Facebook page and on page 3B in this week’s edition of The Times Dispatch.

  • aldermen voted to revise the 2015 budget for the Walnut Ridge Police Department. The equipment budget will receive an additional $2,750 for the purchase of two tasers and related equipment. A new line item in the amount of $2,750 was also added for narcotics department equipment.

  • the council set the city's fees in relation to building, zoning, utilities and inspections. Fire Chief Frank Owens spoke on behalf of the planning commission saying that this is another step in the planning process and a necessary one as some of the fees hadn't been adjusted in nearly 30 years.

  • a resolution was passed to advertise for bids on mowing services for Stewart Park in a future edition of The Times Dispatch.

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