The move to expand the Stokes County jail inched closer to becoming a reality this week as the Board of Commissioners took advice from their financial advisor on possible loan options with the USDA.
Commissioners have been considering the idea of expanding the jail, with an initial plan to add 112 new beds, for about a year, and are still several months from making a final decision.
Last month, the county received an estimated total project cost of $5,188,818.91 for an 88 bed expansion from Moseley Architects.
“We just did not have enough room for the original size expansion,” Jail Captain Eric Cone told the Commissioners Tuesday, noting that even with reduced beds, the expansion would likely still be a revenue generator for the county. “We want to be compliant with the juvenile Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and this expansion will make us the only jail in this area that is anywhere close to be compliant. Other locations are excited to be able to use our services if this comes to be.”
Cone estimated that annual operations costs, including annual payments to pay off construction, would total $652,754.75, $261,950.28 less that the lowest projected revenues the facility could provide by renting bed space to other localities and the federal government. He said if the higher projected revenues became a reality the county could make over $1 million per year through operating the new facility.
Several commissioners asked about the possibility of future expansions, several decades in the future, but Cone said planning for that at this stage would likely be cost prohibitive.
Sheriff Mike Marshall said he expected the jail to be able to adequately house the county’s inmates and still have space to rent out for the foreseeable future, but noted that if other expansions were ever needed the county could consider grading the area behind the jail to make room.
Both Cone and Marshal said they expected the facility to break even in the first six months of operation and start turning a profit by the end of the first year after being opened.
“I will do everything I can to see we break even and not put a bigger burden on the county but instead create a revenue generator,” said Marhsall. “We are building for the future. The revenue possibilities are strong right now and it can pay for itself to keep that burden off of the tax payers.”
County financial advisor Doug Carter said the plan made sense for the county, but noted the county needed to move quickly on it if it hoped to be able to combine financing for the jail and the new community college into a single USDA loan to save on fees.
“If you did that you could lower costs over public markets and borrow at a rate that is very price efficient,” he said, adding that he recommended the county pursue complete architectural renderings, which could cost between $200,000 and $400,000, and bid the project out before securing a joint loan.
“If you are going to do this we need to take some bids as soon as you can,” he said. “Once the bids come in, if they are higher than this projected construction cost you can decide whether or not to do it. That way we are not going to obligate you to a loan for a project you are not going to do.”
Marshall said getting the plans needed to bid the project could take up to 8 months.
County Manager Rick Morris noted that even if the county did not decide to expand the jail after getting architectural plans, it would still have those plans ready to use if it decided a jail expansion was necessary in the future.
Commissioners hope to approve a contract for final architectural renderings at their regular meeting next week.
“I think time is of the essence,” said Board Chair Ronda Jones. “If we keep dragging on this someone else will jump in front of us and get what we were working on.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.