County Acts on Jail Site
Undeterred by protests from Carthage residents, three county commissioners stuck with the original jail expansion plan at a special Monday night meeting.
The Moore County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to move forward with plans to build a detention center expansion in combination with a new public safety facility on the 21-acre downtown tract purchased two years ago.
Commissioner Larry Caddell, a former mayor of Carthage, made the motion.
The commissioners voted 3-2 to adopt the architect's option, which calls for a two-story structure to be attached to the existing jail building. It will be built to accommodate 260 inmates.
Under this plan, the expansion will provide 260 beds, 192 of which will be new, with the remaining 68 in the newer part of the old jail. The existing jail, with 110 beds, is often overcrowded.
The 42-bed area in the old part of the jail would be converted into storage space.
On unanimous vote, the board agreed to continue examination of the Carriage Oaks Complex as the possible site for a new county government office building.
A government center committee was asked to negotiate with the LS3P Boney architectural firm on terms of extending its services to redo design plans at Carriage Oaks, rather than on the downtown site. The committee is to return to the board for action on these results.
The board's series of votes followed dramatic appeals from Carthage residents who oppose construction of a large detention center in the historic downtown area.
Prior to the meeting, some of the detention center opponents picketed the courthouse, carrying signs expressing their opposition. Anti-jail speakers dominated the public comment period held before the board meeting.
Rita Booth presented the board with a petition bearing 263 signatures of people who don't want the huge jail built downtown. She reported later that another seven signatures were added when the commissioners took a break later in the meeting.
Bert Patrick handed the board copies of a new state law that restricts such facilities from siting within 300 feet of places where children gather. She mentioned three places where children are often found nearby -- the athletic field at Carthage Elementary School, the Carthage Baptist Church and the Moore County Public Library. She suggested that the county should use the abandoned state prison facilities located at the edge of town for a detention center.
Booth and Patrick are leaders of the opposition group, which held a community meeting last week.
Other speakers expressed concern about safety issues, property values and the town's image. At least nine persons spoke in opposition, including one woman holding a small baby.
"I'm not against the facility, I'm just against the location," said Steve Ennis, who asked other supporters of this view to stand. About half the audience arose. (Most of the others present came because of interest in the school and college budgets, handled earlier in the meeting).
Capt. Eddie Johnson, who heads the jail staff, was the lone supporter of the facility plan who spoke at the public-comment time.
"We need a new jail, and we need it in proximity of the courthouse," Johnson said.
He said that 60 percent of the inmates are jailed because of child support violations and other nonviolent misdemeanors. He said that 18 women are presently incarcerated and several are sleeping on the floor because there are not enough beds.
"We need a safe and secure detention center in Carthage. It's my job to protect the public," Johnson said. "A new modern up-to-date facility is exactly what we need."
Alternate Plan Rejected
When the subject of the detention center location arose later in the meeting, Commissioner Tim Lea asked for clarification on the legal question raised by Patrick at the public-comment period.
Lea then made a motion to table action on the measure until a legal answer could be provided at the July meeting. Commissioner Cindy Morgan made the second.
"I hope the board will take into consideration the comments of the people in Carthage," Lea said. "I agree that this has been on the table quite some time, but we now have a petition signed by more than 200 people."
However, his motion failed 3-2 with Chairman Nick Picerno, Caddell and Jimmy Melton voting against it.
Caddell defended the plan to place the expanded facility in downtown Carthage. He said that he has lived in Carthage all his life and owns nine pieces of property there. He recalled that when the county bought the land from Johnny Grimm in 2007, the Carthage Town Board expressed support for the planned use of the tract.
His motion to move ahead with plans to place the detention center on the Grimm tract was held up when Morgan offered an amendment in which the detention center would be built on the Grimm site using another option to place it on the lower part of the property.
Morgan cited six points to support her motion. She said that attaching the new building to the old one would limit the ability to design the detention center with multiple options to consider.
"This just makes more sense to me, and we avoid 'the tail wagging the dog,'" she said.
Morgan pointed out that the county already owns 21 acres bought for $1.5 million, or $73,000 an acre. She said the detention center should be built on land already owned by the county, but the architect has recommended that additional parcels may be needed. If the county does not choose the second option, she argued that the present board may be obligating a future board to acquire more land, at a cost exceeding half a million dollars.
Placing the jail on the lower end of the property would lessen the negative impact on Carthage residents and would become "less of a focal point for Carthage," she said. Morgan said this site would be more than 25 feet off Dowd Road, which should offer better security.
Architects from the Ware Bonsall firm showed sketches of the various options and sites and answered questions from the commissioners.
Morgan's amendment failed by a 3-2 vote. The board returned to the original motion by Caddell and it passed 3-2 with the identical margin.
Courts Need Space
After that vote, the board tackled another knotty question about location of the proposed county office building. Among other things, the board wants to know how much it would cost to ask the architect to redraw plans originally intended for the Grimm site and make them suitable for the Carriage Oaks site.
Under the original plan developed in the past two years, the county was to use the Grimm property for the jail expansion, public safety facility and office building. The decision was later made to combine the detention center and the public safety facility into one building.
But this plan was held up several weeks ago when Resident Superior Court Judge James Webb advised that the county will need a much larger courts facility within 20 years. Webb said the present courts facility, built in the late 1970s, is already too small. He said it would be advisable to build any new courthouse in an area close to the detention center.
But the architects advised that the Grimm tract would not be large enough to accommodate three buildings of such size, because a section of the property lies in wetlands and cannot be developed. This led the commissioners to consider the Carriage Oaks Complex, located about one mile from downtown Carthage and already the site of the Department of Social Services, the Department of Planning and Community Development and the Environmental Health Unit of the Health Department.
A study of the Carriage Oaks property indicates that there is sufficient space for the office building, but questions arose about whether the architectural design for the Grimm property could be used at Carriage Oaks without significant additional cost.
Lea made a motion to move ahead with the Carriage Oaks site for the office building, with the staff to negotiate with the architectural firm and return to the board with the information for approval at a future meeting. Picerno made the second, and the vote this time was unanimous.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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