Jefferson County commissioners voted 2-0 Thursday evening to move forward with beginning the purchasing process of 50 acres for a new jail site on Madison’s hilltop.

Commissioner Ron Lee was absent because of a death in his family. Commissioners Robert Little and David Bramer voted in favor of the new proposed site.

The Jefferson County Exploratory Jail Committee on Wednesday night recommended the site the commissioners accepted. The site adjoins J. A. Berry Lane and is west of the former Robus Leather facility. A potential purchase price has not been given yet as the commissioners are still negotiating with the current land owners, Tony and Lisa Hammock of Riverside Contracting and Excavating LLC.

After the county council pushed the commissioners and committee to search for more potential sites when refusing in January to approve good faith funds for a piece of land near Century Tube, the jail committee said several landowners approached the county to offer pieces of property they would be willing to sell to the county.

Little told the committee Wednesday night that the more than 80-acre parcel has access to a 12-inch water line and there is a chance that gravity could be used to move the sewer so a lift station would not have to be built. He reminded the group that he is not an engineer, but the possibility could save the county money in construction and maintenance.

Little also said the property owner would be willing to negotiate to sell only part of the parcel if the county did not want or need to buy the entire property.

RQAW, the firm that produced the county’s jail feasibility study in 2018, recommended the county look for a piece of land that was about 60 acres, so there would be room for setbacks, future expansion and other county uses.

Chief Deputy John Wallace reminded the committee that the sheriff’s office would like to find a new location for a gun range to be used by law enforcement. The gun range used now is on Ivy Tech Drive, near a residential area, Madison’s Ivy Tech Campus, the county’s animal shelter and well within earshot of a retail shopping area. The gun range used now is owned by the City of Madison. Ray Denning, a county council and jail committee member, also reminded the group the county could move other resources, such as the animal shelter, to the site in the future.

The county was cited by state inspectors in 2017 for several areas of noncompliance in the operations of the jail, which is certified to accommodate 109 inmates. The inspection report described multiple issues including overcrowding, lacks beds, toilet and shower facilities, adequate space and understaffing. The inmate population during one day last month neared 180.

After the 2017 inspection, the county commissioners and council were given 180 days to make an action plan to correct the areas of noncompliance.

The Exploratory Jail Committee was created in response to the citations and tasked with researching options such as building a new jail. The committee includes representatives from the commission, council, sheriff’s department and community corrections. They have conducted public meetings over the last 18 months, obtained a feasibility study to address the facility’s potential size and costs and to enable conversations to begin on the best way to find architects, contractors and suppliers for the project. There has been no formal vote to build a new jail but the approval of a new jail will come as the commissioners put out bids for contractors on the project and the council approves those expenditures.

Next, the commissioners will present to the county council their official decision to move forward with the land acquisition during the council’s next meeting on Tuesday, April 9.
Copyright 2019, The Madison Courier