Citing the economic consequences and the spirit of municipal/county cooperation, the Cherokee City Council Tuesday night claimed it was blind-sided and justified in criticizing the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors for its current plans to build a new County Jail, Sheriff's Department, 911 Communications Center, and County Environmental health/ Emergency Management facility as soon as Spring, 2010.
The plan includes the County vacating the existing joint Law Enforcement Center - owned by the County - and leasing that facility to the City for $1 per year. The existing facility, created in 1981 by joint agreement, houses the County Jail, Sheriff's Department, Cherokee Police Department, and the Communications Center.
The proposed plan also hinges on Cherokee County voters passing a bond issue August 4, 2009, in excess of $3 million, that would fund the County's project of an estimated $2.7 million construction cost, plus several hundred thousand dollars for soft costs and related equipment.
"We're here to offer the City a $1 per year lease for the existing jail (LEC)," Supervisor Terry Graybill told the Council. "You can take it and do what you want with it, except we would need some storage space there, depending upon what that storage space might end up being."
Graybill said the final decision was made by the Board of Supervisors "This morning" (Tuesday).
He was accompanied by fellow Supervisor Mark Leeds, who advised the Council that the Board's architects were now working on assigning cost estimates to a preliminary plan accepted by the Board Tuesday morning.
That plan is for $2.7 million for a building that would house the jail, Sheriff's Department, 911 Communications Center, and Environmental Health/Emergency Management facilities. That figure is for brick and mortar only and does not include any related soft costs such as equipment, funiture, computers, radios, etc. (See County Supervisors story on Page 1 of today's Chronicle Times).
Graybill, who made it plain he did not totally agree with his Board's plans and didn't want to split up the County/City LEC arrangement, said "But I lost," when asked about the Board's decisions by Council member Linda Burkhart. Graybill said to include the City Police in the new facility would put the cost of the project over $4 million.
The County representatives also agreed that negotiation options with the City also could come in to play in the future, if the $1 lease was not satisfactory.
City Administrator Don Eikmeier pointed out to the Council that there are infrastructure problems with the existing LEC, including roof leaks, that would have to be addressed.
Eikmeier also said if the City wished to share in the new facility that it would have to float its own bond before the voters and that would be an entire new issue in these troubling economic times.
Leeds advised the Council that the County was amenable to remodeling the existing LEC to suit the purpose of the City Police Department.
Eikmeier advised the Council that the City must weight the $1 lease "as is" versus the costs associated to remodel and repair the existing LEC building.
"This is more than I want to spend," added Graybill. "We split from the City to save money on a new facilty."
Council member Linda Burkhart and Mayor Pam Pierce took issue with the lack of communication between the Board and Council, taking a "we're all in this together" posture.
"Your decision impacts us majorly and I must say the communication between us has been seriously lacking," said Burkhart.
To the Supervisors' credit, annual jail inspections for Cherokee County have been identifying problems for several years and the State has not yet been coercive in the County building a new jail. But, each inspection raises more questions and the light at the end of the tunnel grows dimmer as other neighboring counties take measures to come into compliance.
Admittedly, Graybill and Leeds intoned that the Board could have done better in communicating with the City, but the fact also remains, the Board had to begin the process somewhere to explore the possibility of a new County Jail.
The proposed split between City/County law enforcement agencies is strictly due to costs associated with a pending, new jail facility, emphasized Graybill.
After the Supervisors receive their architect's drawings and proposed cost estimates in "a few weeks," the County will scheduled the appropriate Public Hearings (probably in July) and work to get the vote on the ballot on August 4.
Meanwhile, the City faces the option of finding LEC remodelng monies that currently don't exist, or following through with leasing the existing LEC from the County for $1 per year and delaying any capital renovation expenditures until time and money allows.
It is expected that the existing LEC County Jail would be de-certified by the State if a new facility was built.
If the County's bond issue vote fails on August 4, the matter becomes moot until the next effort initiated by the County - an effort the City of Cherokee hopes will include much better communications from the County from the get-go.