Greene County plans to borrow money for new jail, after voters rejected levy

Greene County residents in November rejected a sales tax increase to replace the aging building. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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Greene County residents in November rejected a sales tax increase to replace the aging building. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Greene County is making plans to move forward with construction of a new jail, after voters rejected a jail plan in November.

The county plans to borrow $40 million of the estimated $50 million project cost, with the extra $10 million coming from cash reserves. County commissioners said in a work session Tuesday that due to current low interest rates for borrowers, now is the time to do it.

Early cost estimates are based on a 384-bed jail, the same size proposed for a sales tax ballot measure that was rejected in November.

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“We’ve been trying to build a jail for a long time. We’ve been to the ballot box twice. The need has not gone away,” County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said Tuesday.

The current jail has 382 beds and is 52 years old. It has been under a consent decree for 32 years, which limits the jail population and prohibits overcrowding.

Officer locker rooms have been converted to detainee interview rooms, programming is conducted in jail administrator break rooms, and a sally port is unusable due to a crumbling foundation.

Under the most recent levy, which would have imposed a 0.25% sales tax on goods purchased inside the county, the county would have been able to pay off the $50 million jail in roughly 16 years. Under the new plan, the debt payoff will take 30 years, to the tune of about $2.5 million annually.

The county will put out bids for an architect and design team in 2022, and commissioners will vote on borrowing around the same time they sign a construction contract, Huddleson said.

Current estimates suggest the county will borrow the $40 million at 4% interest, paying back a total additional $16 million in interest, factored into the county’s annual budget. Huddleson said though the county is able to “comfortably” absorb the expense in the near future (county revenue outpaced expenses by $6 million in 2021), it might impact services years down the line.

“If revenues decline, the money has to come from somewhere,” Huddleson said, adding that cuts could come from one specific department, or could be from reducing expenses across the board.

The commissioners’ last meeting of the year is Dec. 28 at 9 a.m.

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