By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Using a powerpoint presentation, Sheriff Lance Humphreys unveiled a plan Monday at a recessed supervisors’ meeting in Coffeeville to build a new $2.5 million jail that would house 56 county and pre-trial inmates and 25 joint-state worker inmates.
Humphreys’ told supervisors he could build and operate the jail without asking for increase in county taxes, if the county can pay a million dollars up front.
Accompanying the sheriff were company officials with Southeastern Composite Systems, a company that specializes in constructing low maintenance dome jails made from reinforced fiberglass.
“They have been really helpful and done a lot for us and hasn’t charged us a dime,” Humphreys said about the initial planning with the company.
The sheriff also reiterated that the potential location for the jail is the recently acquired six acres adjacent to the buildings that were donated by Carothers Construction.
Humphreys first reminded supervisors that the county had a September 1 deadline to show progress on constructing a new jail or the county will no longer be allowed to house state inmates.
This deadline was imposed by the state’s prisoner right’s attorney, Ron Welch, who obtained a federal court order last year as part of a lawsuit that affects many of the counties in the state.
Humphreys also told supervisors that Welch has ordered state inmates pulled from five jails in recent months including Calhoun, Humphreys-Holmes, Pontotoc, Sunflower County and Tate County for a variety of alleged offenses ranging from prisoner over-crowding to not having a proper exercise facility.
This September deadline only affects state prisoners and does not jeopardize county inmates housed at the facility.
Dollars And Cents
Humphreys’ pitch outlined additional revenue the county would generate with a new jail. This potential revenue includes an estimated $182,500 payment from the state to house the 25 joint state inmates and $21,000 for other state inmates who will work in the jail.
Another significant revenue stream, outlined by Humphreys, would be a $60,000 annual payment from the hospital to the sheriff’s department to provide dispatching for the county’s ambulances. The total new possible jail income would be an estimated $285,000, which matched with the current annual jail budget of $243,314 would be a total budget of almost $410,000.
Humphreys then projected expenses that would come with the larger facility, including adding more manpower, comparing costs from similar-size jails in Calhoun and Sunflower counties. Including the annual debt service of $118,792, The bottom line, Humphreys said he could operate a jail with a net gain of almost $30,000 annually.
Another added benefit is a work pool of 25 inmates is available to provide labor on county, state, school and municipal property in the county.
“These are minimum security inmates. If Bubba Tillman wants to come to the jail and get five to do anything he wants to do on a county road or on county property, he can do it. Unguarded, you don’t have to have an armed guard,” the sheriff added.
The biggest thing we are looking at is the jail is full and it is 40 years old. It can’t be expanded. The only way we can pay for it is to use state inmates,” Beat One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn said. The payment for housing state inmates would pay for the jail without any cost to the taxpayer, Vaughn continued, adding, “That is the only way I am going to be for it,.”
“Not going to be any cost to the taxpayers?” Surrette asked.
“Yes, taxpayers are paying for it, but it will not be a millage increase for our county,” Humphreys answered.
“It will not be a millage rate increase,” Vaughn reiterated.
“Taxpayers are not going to have any money in this?” Surrette asked again.
“I didn’t say none, that million dollars, the majority of that money is coming from Windsor Foods, where they paid their taxes one or two different times,” Vaughn answered, referring to the proposed down payment coming from taxes paid by Windsor Foods before the industry was given a 10-year industrial tax exemption by the county.
“But it is tax money, right?” Surrette asked.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t. I said it was one-time money,” Vaughn answered. “We have a wonderful opportunity to use that money where we won’t have but a 20-year note to pay. If we don’t do it now, (build a new jail) we are going to do it in the next two years. If we let that million dollars go in another direction, we are going to have a 20-year note and it will raise taxes for everybody in Yalobusha County for 20 years,” Vaughn answered.
Humphreys then fielded a question from Beat Five Supervisor Bubba Tillman, who asked if he had housed any state prisoners in other counties during the last year. Tillman was referring to the state inmates the county is required to house during Circuit Court sessions.
“No, I have tried to keep it under where we need to have it,” Humphreys asked.
“But, by saying that, there has been occasion where he has to release people on their own recognizance when they should be in jail,” Vaughn said.
Humphreys proposal came with a lease purchase financing agreement that would extend a five percent interest rate spread over a 20-year repayment period.
Also discussed were a general obligation bond and a revenue bond as potential financing sources.
“John, how do we pay for this,” Vaughn asked, adding he would be against a general obligation bond. “Is it going to be a lease purchase or a revenue bond?” Vaughn asked.
“You have got a number of ways to do it,” Board Attorney John Crow answered. “One way, is how they propose, which is five percent. You would probably get cheaper money through some of these other programs, bond issues,” Crow answered.
“To me, the only difference between a revenue bond and a general obligation bond is you give the people an opportunity to object to a bond issue,” Surrette added. “I think we need to be mighty careful about taxation without representation. We got a million dollars we can use, but that million dollars wasn’t collected with the intent of spending it on the jail,” Surrette said.
“Now, if you want to have a referendum to find out if the people really want to have a jail, then as far as I am concerned, then they have a voice in this tax money. Just to take a million dollars out of the rainy day fund and spend it on a jail, and we can say we got if from Windsor Foods, or Daryl Burney or Butch Surrette, but is tax money. It belongs to the tax payers of this county. We need to be pretty careful about jumping out here and saying we are going to spend a million dollars of your money. It wasn’t collected for that money …it was over collection in a lot of cases. Whatever we do here will set a precedent for what we do in the future,” Surrette continued.
“Let me say something. When you go ask an average person on the street do we need a new jail, they say naw, let them sit over there and rot,” Vaughn responded. “I got a little of that feeling myself, but we have an obligation to house prisoners in a place that is good enough for a human being to live in. Not only that, we are out of room. During the last fiscal year, we had a little over $2.4 million dollars. When I came in the office five years ago, we had $900,000, that is what we carried over,” Vaughn reported.
“I am going to say one thing about something, I am not going to get into any mud-slinging,” Tillman said.
“I started in 2000 with that $800,000, the rainy day fund. In 2000 the board had the courthouse issue, 911 was voted in and had laid there five years. That board took it and put 911 in operation. We built the Multi-purpose building. Now I not saying I am going to be for all of this, but it is time for us to go on and do another improvement for the county. When I was elected, I thought I was elected by the people to represent Beat Five and the whole county,” Tillman continued.
“I feel like the board is responsible to benefit the whole county. The people in the county are laying everything on us five board members, and I am going to do my best to represent the county. I told Lance the other day, I have had some people out here fussing out here who said y’all are going to build that jail for Lance Humphreys. I said, what just a minute, I am not going to build a jail for Lance Humphreys if we build a jail. That jail represents the people of Yalobusha County,” Tillman said, adding that he wasn’t going to make a decision at the meeting.
“You can make this thing a political hot potato, it is just how you approach this thing,” Beat Two Supervisor Amos Sims responded. “Just like these courthouses, when I ride by these courthouse I think it was one of the best decisions that this board has made. It was a tough decision. I think we are moving in the right direction,” Sims continued.
“I think Bubba said it about as good as it can be said,” Vaughn responded. “If you sit on this board and you are not progressing and take every opportunity to advance the county, then you are taking up space on this board. Now if it is going to cost money or raise taxes, I am going to be standing on top of the table hollering. This (jail proposal doesn’t do that,” Vaughn added.
“We need to remember that whatever we do here is going to have an effect on the next four administrations,” Surrette reminded, referring to the 20-year repayment period.
Tillman also posed several additional questions, including if the sheriff would receive a raise if the jail is constructed.
“No,” Humphreys said. “On a regional it is required by law. This has nothing to do with a regional,” the sheriff continued, referring to earlier efforts by the county to land a regional jail.
No action was taken Monday on Humphreys’ jail proposal.
Following discussion about the jail, Humphreys received the nod from supervisors to begin moving his department from the current jail to the Carothers building. The dispatchers and jail-related personnel will remain at the current jail.