Franklin Jail Funding Remains at Standstill

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia

A lengthy discussion recently on how to pay for an addition to the Franklin County Detention Center seems to have left the board of commissioners back where it started.

At issue is how to come up with the $2.7 million architects say it will now cost to add a 96-bed pod to house women and non-violent offenders at the Franklin County Detention Center.

Franklin County Commissioners held a 45-minute work session last week after their regular meeting to try to come up with ideas.

The board first heard from Franklin County Sheriff Stevie Thomas, who said the existing jail was built in 1993 after an inmate sued and the federal government stepped in and forced Franklin County to build a new facility.

Thomas said with the overcrowding that currently exists, FranklinCounty again runs the risk of another federal lawsuit.

“What is going to really hurt is if we get into another federal lawsuit,” Thomas said. “But if a violent offender hurts a misdemeanor offender, you’ve got problems. We try to keep them safe, but it’s a danger to the nonviolent offenders and to my officers so you have got to keep them separated back there.”

Currently, Franklin County is spending $7,000 to $15,000 a month to house out the more violent inmates in other counties, such as Jackson County or Stephens County.

Some of the financing ideas discussed by Franklin County officials included bank financing, bond issuance, and SPLOST monies.

Franklin County Manager John Phillips said he and his staff have looked a number of funding options, including the possibility of obtaining grant funding.

“What I really would like to find is some free money out there,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately, it’s just not available. I’ve talked with Georgia Mountains Regional Commission and others and what I’ve been told is there’s just no grant money available for a jail.”

Franklin County Commissioner Clint Harper said monies should have been allocated for the new jail pod in the last Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

That next SPLOST is two years away.

Harper said while he likes the proposed design of the new pod, there’s just no money now in the FranklinCounty coffers to build it.

“I think it was a travesty that you didn’t get the money you needed to build the new jail,” Harper told Thomas. “But right now, with out budget, it’s an absolute impossibility. With our budget and the new expenses, the upkeep and hiring extra personnel, it’s an impossibility.”

Franklin County Commissioner David Strickland said a local bank, which he did not name, was willing to finance the $2 million dollars at a low interest rate.

He also suggested a bond issue, but it was noted FranklinCounty could not afford the $90,000 it would cost to underwrite.

After more discussion, Franklin County Commission Chair Thomas Bridges called for a subcommittee to continue to study the matter of funding further.