JACKSON COUNTY, AR(KAIT) – Voters helped avoid what officials called a potential financial crisisin Jackson County.
In February theyoverwhelmingly approved two sales tax increases – each worth three-eighths of acent – to fund construction and maintenance of a new jail after the statethreatened to close the county detention center for numerous violations.
County officialsexpected construction on the new jail to start this fall, but a recent changein plans has caused delays and pushed back the start date. Initially, the new facilitywas to be built next to the old one, but now officials have decided to relocateit to a place that they say is better for space and security.
The idea emerged afew weeks ago to find a different location for the new Jackson County jail.Jeff Phillips, the county judge, says price forced the county to abandon itsplans to build the new 100-bed, $8 million facility next to the current detentioncenter in downtown Newport.
The Newporteconomic development director then helped the county look for some otherpotential sites, including a four-acre vacant lot east of town near the NewportAirport. Phillips says the county got the land for free after a swap with thelocal industrial development bond board.
"It's not going tocost us any money," Phillips said. "Plus, it'll save us on having to move allthose utilities off that lot. They were going to have to tear the streets upand relocate everything, so that is going to help."
The county judgesays this new location gives more space for the jail, which has reopened thepossibility of putting a garden on the grounds.
"We got the ideathat if we could get more property, have a big garden and that would help withfood costs," Phillips explained.
Moving the jail outof a residential area will help tighten security, too, according to SheriffDavid Lucas.
"People will tendto throw stuff over the fence and get contraband onto the grounds," Lucas said."We won't have that out there."
One con, though, isthe distance. The new jail will be located about eight miles from the JacksonCounty Courthouse in Newport, which raised concerns about transportation costs.Lucas, however, said the county already has a solution.
"We're going toimplement video arraignment at the new facility, which will cut down on a lotof transports that we normally do now," Lucas said, "so it's not really goingto be that bad of an issue for us.
"I've alreadyspoken with two of our judges, and they're all for that," he added. "Not onlydoes the video arraignment take care of issues as far as security fortransports, but it also takes care of courtroom security issues where we don'thave all of the inmates over there that we normally have."
Phillips saidcounty officials have also spoken to some of the nearby business owners aboutthe proposed new facility as well as the chancellor of the Arkansas StateUniversity campus in Newport, which is located across a field from the site. Heclaims they all supported the idea because it will provide an added policepresence to the area.
Moving the facilityto this new site will mean a few minor changes to the design. County officials nowhope to break ground on the project in April 2014, with a completion date setfor sometime in 2015.
The county also begancollecting revenue from the two new sales taxes this summer. So far, the JacksonCounty treasurer's office has only gotten numbers back from July and August.
The treasurerreported that in July, the sales taxes generated $122,887.51; however, thefollowing month brought a noticeable bump. In August, the revenue totaled$132,045.53. County officials suspect the opening of the newer, larger Wal-Martin Newport is responsible for the spike.
"It really hashelped because the more revenue we generate, the more we will be able to payoff the jail sooner," Phillips said. "That's our main goal is get the jailbuilt, get it open and pay it off as soon as we can."