Officials look to raise funds for Putnam jail, school without tax hike

Story and photo courtesy of JIM HERRIN at the Herald-Citizen

Putnam County officials say they hope to fund the construction of a new school and also pay for millions of dollars in needed renovations to the county's jail and courtroom spaces without the need for any tax increase.

"We're hoping we can get all three of those projects within our bond (capacity) without raising taxes," Sheriff Eddie Farris said during a work session with county commissioners this week.

County Mayor Randy Porter said the county's current bond capacity (the amount of money it can borrow with existing revenues) is approximately $80 million, while preliminary cost estimates for all of the proposed construction currently exceed $100 million — if they were all undertaken at once.

"You can't go build all this at once. It's going to have to be in some stages, and you're going to have to prioritize some of it," he said. "There's going to have to be cooperation between the sheriff and the school board and the county commission and everybody."

In an update presented this week, the sheriff said several options are being considered, one of which would add 500 new beds to the jail, providing the county a suitable facility for at least 20 to 25 years.

"I would not suggest that we go any lower than 500 additional beds," Farris said.

The plans, outlined by Grant Tharp of Cope Architecture, would expand both the jail and the Justice Center outward into a current parking area. The county has taken options to purchase several nearby pieces of property to replace the parking spots that would be lost in a such an expansion.

"The first decision you have to make is do you want the addition to go (on the current site)," Porter said. "If that's what you decide, then we need to lock this other land in for parking. That would need to be on the agenda probably in March."

He said "very latest" the commission would have to make a decision is April because options on the property will run out.

"I'd just like to ask you to go ahead and get it rolling," said District 9 Commissioner Jimmy Neal. "I don't know what we're waiting on."

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