Two Citizens Address Court With Concerns Over Animal Shelter Property
Darren Doyle, story and photo:
Less than a dozen visitors attended today's fiscal court meeting, not counting court officials and employees, as two main items of county business were discussed. Magistrate James Vincent was not in attendance due to a death in his family, according to Judge Executive Wil Cannon.
Judge Cannon described the pains of the current jail contracts, where Edmonson County currently has agreements with both Butler and Hart County Jails. Magistrates voted on August 26, 2019 to accept sealed bids from Butler County Jail for a cost of $35 per day, which would include up to 10 inmates for the county, and Hart County Jail for a cost of $45 per day. Cannon explained to the court that neither was an exclusive contract and that both jails could be used according to the county's needs.
At that time, Cannon estimated a savings of $18K per year to the county by being able to use Butler County's rates up to 10 prisoners; however, in today's court meeting, he said to his knowledge, Butler County had never accepted more than two county inmates at once. He also asked Sheriff Shane Doyle to describe a difficult situation the county faced just a few weeks ago.
"We had a situation where both Butler County Jail and Hart County Jail said they couldn't take any Edmonson County prisoners," said the sheriff. "We were stuck with not knowing what we were going to do with some individuals that had been arrested and were in our custody. Luckily, Todd (Vincent) and Joe Carl (Daugherty) (both deputy jailers) were able to start calling jails and we were able to find space at Simpson County Jail."
Cannon reminded the court that Hart County Jailer Israel Bergenson had assured the court back in August that Hart County would always have a bed available for Edmonson County prisoners, which is what he said in open court on the day of the sealed bids.
"Evidently he changed his mind," said Cannon. "I talked to him about that later, and he said since we weren't using Hart County exclusively, he would have to fill their beds as he saw necessary. They're holding all the cards, guys," he said to the court.
Cannon suggested entering another contract with Hart County, which would be an exclusive, four-year deal.
"We might spend more money, but we have to have a guaranteed space for our prisoners," he said. "I know people are going to start bringing up the 'we need a jail in Edmonson County again,' but that's not going to happen. We'd have to build a 200-bed jail which is estimated to cost $20 million dollars. We would have to double our property tax rates here to the point that people couldn't afford to live here. That doesn't even include the staff to operate it or the costs to maintain it. No one would ever want to build or buy property in Edmonson County again."
Cannon also noted that some had complained to him that if Edmonson County had a jail that housed federal and state prisoners, the jail would receive higher revenue for their prisoners.
"Maybe in some places, but there wouldn't be enough of them to bring here," he said. "We're not right off the interstate. That makes a big difference."
Magistrate Edd Rich said he estimated the costs actually being more toward $25 million now.
A motion was made for a new exclusive contract with Hart County Jail, for a cost of $45 per inmate-per day, for a period of four years. The vote passed unanimously.
The court also heard from two county residents, Randy Parsley and Donna Lindsey, regarding the recent purchase of the property on Veterans Memorial HWY by the county for the purpose of a future animal shelter and other county usage.
Both residents expressed their opposition to the purchase of the property. Parsley's main concern was that he felt like the public was not made aware enough about the purchase before magistrates voted. He also took issue with the negotiations being held in closed session.
Both Cannon and County Attorney Greg Vincent said that it is a common practice statewide in all county governments for these types of negotiations to be done in closed session and that this was certainly nothing new. Mr. Parsley noted he was aware of the law that allowed the court to do so, but thought it was unfair to the residents. Cannon said the reason the court went this route was to keep the price of the property from being driven up by potential developers or others wanting to make higher offers to the seller. He said it was also to protect the identity of the seller until details of the deal were made public.
Parsley also had other concerns, which included noise, odors, traffic in and out of the facility, and possible eyesores if the county was going to use the property for storage.
"If this was by ya'll's houses, I know how you would've voted," he said.
Cannon spoke at length as he reiterated the same points he made in an interview last week with The Edmonson Voice.
"I can’t promise you won’t ever hear a dog bark or a that you won't notice a vehicle going up and down the driveway, but this will not be something the county won't be proud of," he said. "You can take a look at what's on the property now, and I can assure you we're going to improve it. It's going to be better than it is now."
Parsley asked if other locations had been sought, if the county had advertised for this, and if anyone had offered to donate land to the county for this purpose, as he'd heard. Cannon said other sites have been looked at, but the county did not advertise that they were searching for property. He also said one person had once offered property and a building for this purpose but the building was unsuitable and would have to be completely remodeled, in addition to that the location was not desirable. He added that the offer was only open for a short time.
Judge Cannon said the road department wouldn't be constantly in and out, and this would be to store gravel and large equipment that is not used often. He said the sheriff's office would possibly use it as an impound lot but measures would be taken to see that it wasn't done during midnight hours.
Mr. Parsley also noted the examples of recent property sold in the area and their prices, which he read in the Edmonson Voice interview with Cannon. He incorrectly referenced Judge Cannon as making those comparisons. It was the Edmonson Voice who asked the county PVA's office for recent examples, not Judge Cannon. Mr. Parsley said the purchased property only contained a very small portion of road frontage and the other properties were likely those which offered much more road frontage. While that is likely, he did not provide further information; however, The Edmonson Voice also did not research the amount of road frontage in the eight examples of property sold in the 5-mile radius within the past 18 months. Cannon said the property appraised for $120,000 and the county paid $105,000.
Mr. Parsley concluded his argument by stating he understood the deal was already complete, but that he needed to voice his concerns anyway.
"I'm very disappointed in the way this was handled," he said. "You might say this was legal, but I don't think this was right," he said. "But it's a done deal."
Mrs. Donna Lindsey also expressed the same type of concerns; however, at one time she began shouting and was called down by the sheriff.
Judge Cannon stood by his decision to bring the property before the court and the court's decision to purchase it.
"We're still probably at least two or three years away from building an animal shelter, but I think we can build this here and it will be something the county will be proud of," he said.