July 15, 2015 Edition

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County given final
extension on jail

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

At the end of multiple extensions, the Jail Standards Committee has given Lawrence County a final 90 days to have a plan for a new jail facility in place. If the plan, which must include location, size and how to finance it, is not ready or not satisfactory by that time, the jail will be forced to close.

During Monday night's quorum court meeting, justices discussed options for downsizing the facility to a suitable jail for the county's current needs.

"We may have to go a little smaller," Sheriff Jeff Yates said due to the time restrictions.

The jail is currently housing 46 inmates and about 15 of those are state prisoners, according to Yates. He also said the jail can have as many as 20 state inmates and he doesn't have room for misdemeanor offenders with the current size of the facility.

A proposed 80-bed facility was discussed as an alternative, while smaller than the original plan for a jail with at least 100 beds, the county may have to look into building a facility that only has what is necessary.

If the sheriff's office stays in the courthouse and the new facility only includes what is necessary to keep the jail running, it could save the county millions of dollars, according to Justice Jim Jones.

Yates will meet with an architecture firm to work on size and cost estimates.

The county still has an application out for a regional jail that would be built by the state, however the project still needs funded on the state level and it is uncertain if and when that may happen.

"We have to have a plan on the table that satisfies them in case everything else falls through," Jones said.

In other business, justices discussed adjustments needed in the sheriff's and jail maintenance budgets. An oversight led to several deputies getting paid out of the jail maintenance fund who shouldn't have been. A decrease in tickets being written due to the weight restrictions being removed from the Black River Bridge and an increase of back roads patrol have also left the jail maintenance fund low as that is its main source of income.

Justices voted to amend the budgets to shift expenditures back to the sheriff's office. They agreed that they would have to appropriate funds to thesheriff's office to cover the added cost but tabled the action until a future meeting. The money will most likely come from unappropriated money in the general fund.

Jones said that the cost of law enforcement and jails is something every county is having to address. "What we have to remember is Lawrence County is not unique," he said.

Also at the meeting:

County Attorney Dick Jarboe sent a letter advising against leash and pen laws on the county level, which would be required to address strays. The court agreed that the county can't enforce dog laws the way the cities can and voted not to pursue new dog law ordinances for the county.

Judge Dale Freeman said instead of leasing four road graders as requested in the June meeting, he is looking at leasing only two but increasing the hours the county is allowed to use them per year. Justices voted to allow Freeman to pursue the new lease agreement.

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