Jackson County finalizing plans to pay for jail expansion

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Jackson County is finalizing its plans to resolve the longstanding problems plaguing the county detention center, but the jail's future will ultimately rest in the voters' hands.

The Jackson County Quorum Court decided last week to hold a special election in February. Voters will get to decide then how the county will pay to build and maintain a new jail.

Officials have spent the past few months working diligently to explore not only how to expand the current detention center but also how to pay for the cost of construction and upkeep.

"That's the only way we can take care of our overcrowding, is to build a bigger facility," said Jeff Phillips, the Jackson County judge.

Phillips says he measured progress recently when the justices of the peace approved the final design for the proposed jail expansion, which the public can view at the Jackson County Courthouse in Newport.

Sheriff David Lucas assisted an architect in crafting the floor plan, which would allow space for 100 beds and alleviate any concerns about overcrowding.

"The new building will take Jackson County into the future for about 50 years," Phillips said. "We're looking at 50 years that the citizens of Jackson County will not have to worry about their jail and overcrowding and the state coming in and shutting the jail down because of overcrowding."

The biggest issue left to address, however, is how to pay for all the upgrades.

The county's budget is tight, so the voters will decide the best financing option for the county to take.

What that will entail exactly will be specified at the next quorum court meeting in December, but Phillips says quick action is needed because bond rates have hit an all-time low and have created an ideal time to build.

The other pressing matter is the next review by the state jail committee, which has given the Jackson County Detention Center one last chance to fix its problems or face closure.

The next review will be in February, just before the special election is scheduled to be held.

"We can address those issues," Phillips said. "We can take care of those and make Jackson County a better place."

The quorum court is set to vote on an ordinance next month to set up the special election, which will likely be held on February 12.

Members will also proffer specifics at that time and let the public know what exactly will appear on the ballot.

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