Commissioners praise Curry County jail plan

Courtesy photo/ Paul C. Reed Architects Courtesy photo/ Paul C. Reed Architects An architect’s three-dimensional concept a new addition to the Curry County jail to be funded by a proposed $9.3 million bond issue before voters on April 3. The addition is the portion marked SHU, which is an acronym for Special Housing Unit.

By Robin Fornoff: CMI content editor

Curry County commissioners kicked off a campaign to sell a special $9.3 million bond issue Friday by unveiling plans for the jail expansion and renovation the cash would be used to complete.

The plan includes a two-story, 60-bed addition to the north side of the existing jail on property already owned by the county.

Commissioners praised the plan as the answer to many of the problems at the troubled jail. Chairman Wendell Bostwick and Commissioner Caleb Chandler also repeatedly reminded an audience of about 20 — most of them county employees — the plan doesn’t include a tax increase like a $33-million bond issue overwhelmingly rejected by voters last December.

The latest special bond referendum is April 3 and, if approved, would extend by another 20 years an existing tax voters approved in 1992 to fund building the County Events Center.

The tax to be extended was due to expire in August 2014.

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners also approved purchasing a business across street from the courthouse — Master Trim — but said it was for future use and not part of the proposed jail expansion.

Chairman Wendell Bostwick said the deal involves purchasing Solar Shield on north Norris Street for $340,000. Bostwick said Master Trim has agreed to accept the Solar Shield property plus an additional $5,000 from the county.

Bostwick said both properties appraised at more than the county is paying.

The proposed jail expansion involves adding a 22,500-square foot building to the existing facility. The plan means the county must purchase ZIP Printing immediately to the north.

County Manager Lance Pyle said the county has an exclusive offer to purchase ZIP Printing signed by owner Joe Wood. The offer was accepted Wednesday but still must be approved by commissioners within the 60-day time period, Pyle said.

Jail Administrator Gerry Billy told commissioners the new addition, called the Special Housing Unit, will enable jail staff to “properly classify” or segregate inmates based on factors such as aggressive behavior, physical or mental health factors, drug or alcohol addictions, gang affiliations or escape risks.

“The community is your ultimate benefactor,” BIlly said, adding the new unit will mean increased safety and security for the community.

Billy said the new jail plan would improve staff retention, noting staff turnover in the jail is high and contributes to past problems. He also said it would eliminate more than 90 percent of housing inmates outside the county, an expense of about $770,000 last year.

The addition also includes a new kitchen and laundry.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” Chandler said, noting he didn’t support the December bond issue rejected by voters because it wasn’t planned well and it meant a tax increase.

“Seventy percent of the public turned it down,” Chandler said. “They said go back and come up with an alternative that doesn’t mean a tax increase. I think we’ve done that.”

Commissioner Robert Sandoval said he supported the plan and “I really think they (taxpayers) are going to support this and we’ll move forward.”

Commissioner Frank Blackburn, noting the lack of almost anyone but county employees attending the meeting, said he wanted to see the county advertise the newest plan “to get the word out to taxpayers.”

Commissioner Dan Stoddard was out of the country and didn’t attend the special meeting.