(WBIR-Madisonville) A permanent fix to overcrowding at the Monroe County Jail is one step closer to a reality after a committee voted to recommend building a new facility outside of downtown Madisonville.
Mayor Tim Yates said the current downtown jail is only certified to house 138 inmates, but typically it houses 70 inmates more than it's certified.
"We were up to be de-certified by the state, and we have a plan of action," said Yates.
This week, the county justice committee looked at four potential plans to fix overcrowding from Grant Tharpe, a developer with Cope and Associates.
Those four plans included renovating the current jail and purchasing an additional two acres downtown, demolishing the current jail and building a new facility on the property downtown, building a new facility on Highway 68 towards Sweetwater, or building a new facility on Highway 68 towards Tellico Plains.
"We would like to leave it in a downtown area if we could. We support the town and the city when we can, we just have to look at the options and do what's right for the taxpayers of Monroe County," said Yates.
The total costs for purchasing, construction, staffing, and maintenance showed building a new facility outside of downtown would be the cheapest.
The Atkins Farm on Highway 68 toward Tellico Plains was approved to be recommended to the county commission. The 20 acre site would cost just over $29 million, as opposed to $32 million to renovate the current jail and $34 to demolish the current jail.
"Your rescue squads, highway department, EMS, all of those could go to the facility, and make more use of the property," said Yates on the Highway 68 location.
Tharpe said the long-term costs show the recommended site would also be cheaper 30 years from now. He projected, with the cost of staffing, the site would cost nearly $54 million, compared to $59 million for a new jail at the current site, and a whopping $74 million for a renovated jail at the current site.
"We've got advice from several of the surrounding counties who are facing the same issue we are," said Yates. "They spent millions of dollars and then two or three years later they were overcrowded and we don't want the same issue to face us in a couple of years down the road."
Other counties have had to rebuild as soon as four years after opening a new jail. Yates said if the jail was located on the committee-recommended site, expanding would not be a problem due to the space available.
Even though the site appeared to be the most cost-effective, it turns out the county could have saved money by acting sooner. Tharpe projected three years ago, building a new jail would have cost between $15 and $18 million, almost half the estimated cost for the approved plan.
While the Highway 68 location was approved, with only four committee members not voting in favor of the site, some people were concerned about the effect the move would have on downtown Madisonville.
"It won't really affect us I think, but it certainly would affect the restaurants down here," said Linda Asmann, Co-owner of Blue Moon, a local gift shop.
Asmann said most of her customers are either employees at the courthouse, or residents who come downtown to eat at a local restaurant, not employees at the jail.
A waitress at Donna's Old Café said if the jail was to relocate, the restaurant might lose some customers, but if the courthouse is not relocated, the businesses would not be dramatically affected.
"I just want the best fit for the county, what is the most economical and makes the most practical sense to the county," said Yates.
The Monroe County Commission is set to meet on Tuesday, June 25th. Yates said there is a long way to go before the committee-recommended site is officially the new location for the Monroe County Jail.