Possible Site Unveiled Should County Decide to Build Criminal Justice Center

September 19, 2023
By: Dwayne Page

Should the county build a criminal justice center rather than a new jail?

The county commission has not yet made a decision on that but County Mayor Matt Adcock has identified 38 acres of property in the heart of Smithville that he believes would be an excellent site for such a facility.

During Monday night’s meeting with the jail committee, County Mayor Adcock said he has contacted the owner of the property, Peggy Hayes and she is willing to talk about selling the land but she wants the county to make an offer. Adcock said he plans to get an appraisal and then bring that information back to the county commission for a decision.

The property, which is currently open farmland once owned by Hayes’ father the late Rex Hayes, is situated in the area off West Broad Street and behind Anthony Avenue, Morgan Drive, and Short Street near the housing projects.

“I called Ms Hayes and asked if she was willing to sell this property,” said County Mayor Adcock. “Ms Hayes replied that she was just about to put it on the market. I asked her if we could work out a deal. She wanted me to approach her with a price. After talking with her, I reached out to people who appraise properties and in this case it has to be a commercial appraisal so I have found someone who does that and he is supposed to get back with me soon on the appraisal cost of this property. Once he does that and we determine a fair market price, I will contact Ms Hayes again and see if she is willing to accept that price and if so I will come back to the county commission,” said Adcock.

According to County Mayor Adcock, the property is large enough to accommodate a criminal justice center with options for expansion along with space for possible future county facilities such as a new health department. He said the site offers plenty of room for public and secure parking areas.

“I think 38 acres is plenty of room and it’s a great piece of property to invest in for the future. My recommendation would be to get all 38 acres if we can afford to purchase it,” said Adcock.

The land is flat with access to all utilities including city water and sewer services.

Obviously before the county can move forward with any building plan, County Mayor Adcock said it must select a site and while he has looked at several, this property seems to be the most suitable.

“Our front entrance would be on West Broad right across from the former Sexton property. That would be the public entrance from Highway 70 to the parking lot in the front of the building. The back entrance to the facility off of Anthony Avenue could be for public and secure parking areas in addition to possibly a guard shack and fenced in area for the jail and sally port. The back entrance could also be designed to where only sheriff’s department staff and Judges would enter. If we did that we could make the front for public parking only and people would have to walk through the building to get to the sheriff’s office,” said County Mayor Adcock.

According to Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) standards, the existing DeKalb County jail can now house no more than 52 inmates (16 females and 36 males) to remain certified by the state and none of the prisoners can be kept in the basement of the older portion of the jail building. All but two prisoners currently in the jail are males. Several inmates have been relocated to other jails but the county is having to foot the bill for that at up to $55 per day. Over a year’s time, that cost could balloon to well over half a million dollars. Facing that dilemma, County Mayor Adcock suggested the county commission speed up its timetable for moving forward on a building plan which could at best take up to three years to complete.

After consulting with the county’s fiscal agent Steve Bates and officials of Bell Construction who have designed and built other criminal justice centers, Adcock said he is recommending that the county build one to accommodate four courtrooms, sheriff’s department, and a jail with 225 beds. The turnkey project, estimated at over $50 million, could be scaled down if necessary.

“I have been working with Bell Construction. They have come highly recommended from other county mayors in the Upper Cumberland. Bell has one of the best reviews of any other company I have found so far. A criminal justice center designed with four courtrooms and 225 jail beds comes in at a little over $50 million. I asked Bates to project a little more than that to give us some cushion room so he is working up a financial plan for $55 million. That doesn’t mean we have to spend $55 million,” Adcock continued.

To fund such a project, the county might have to consider future passage of a wheel tax or a higher county property tax rate to service the debt on a 30-year bond issue.

“I got Ben Rodgers of CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) to do a wheel tax assessment for me. If we decide to do a $50 wheel tax it would accumulate $1.1 million a year with the number of registered vehicles we have right now. If we double that $50 to a $100 wheel tax it would double the revenue to $2.2 million. The debt payment on this would be around $3 million a year but after talking to Steve (Bates) once we get the bond there is interest that is earned that can go back toward the debt. It’s a 30-year loan and it could be refinanced at anytime,” County Mayor Adcock explained.

The county could also apply funds for other debts soon to retire toward the project.

“In 2025 the county complex will be paid off so $600,000 going now toward paying off that debt can go toward this project,” said Adcock.

“I will have Steve (Bates) come and explain the financial plan in more detail but basically the way we have it worked out, if we had a $100 wheel tax and we use the available funds in our debt service to be freed up in 2025, it would require only a small additional property tax increase,” he said.

“What we have to think about and what we will have to ask the taxpayers is whether they want to pay $200 a year for a wheel tax if they have two vehicles or maybe more in property taxes. Either way we will have to fund the project,” Adcock continued.

According to Adcock, the county commission could enact a wheel tax by two thirds vote on a first and second reading following a public hearing. If a public petition is presented with the required number of valid signatures, it could force a public referendum as a ballot issue during an election.

Should the county move forward on both a criminal justice center and a new elementary school the overall costs could almost double to near $100 million which might result in even higher taxes to service that large of a debt.

The jail committee made no decision Monday night.

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