January 20, 2013

Murray jail set to open by May

Rachel Brown

— The new $11 million portion of the Murray County jail that has been sitting empty since 2009 is finally slated to be fully staffed and opened.

Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman said last week that officials had come to an agreement after weeks of discussion with Sheriff Gary Langford, who took office Jan. 1. The opening of the jail had been delayed, according to past sheriff Howard Ensley and past sole commissioner Greg Hogan, mostly because of costs associated with hiring more people.

Pittman said that cost will be about $150,000, which is half of what it was originally projected to be. Langford said he plans to hire five more full-time employees and two more part-time employees to staff the 160-bed jail for a total of about 12 people. It’s expected to be in use by late April or early May.

“I’m really tickled,” Langford said. “We’re going to try to have an open house on it (for the public to see the facility) pretty soon before we open.”

According to a press release from Pittman, Langford plans to reduce the amount of jail overtime pay as well as inmate housing costs and to reallocate some of his staff from the old jail to the new one. Some employees will have to be trained first.

The current facility opened in 1993 and has 120 beds, but the average number of inmates daily for the past two years has been about 130, officials said.

County finance director Tommy Parker said the total county budget increased by about $143,000 from last year to $15.26 million, at least partly because of growth in the tax digest and the lack of elections-related expenses. Langford also cut the $1.5 million budget for the sheriff’s department, which is separate from the jail budget, by about $20,000. The jail budget was increased by about $170,000 to $1.8 million with most of that additional money going to the new jail, Parker said.

Parker said no cuts were made in other departments to be able to open the new facility.

The county isn’t counting on outside revenue to pay for opening the new portion of the jail, but the press release from Pittman says it’s likely to come as neighboring law enforcement agencies pay Murray County to house their inmates. The release states officials project a “conservative estimate” of $128,000 in gross revenue annually if the jail is used to house 10 inmates from outside agencies daily.

There are plans to eventually refurbish the old part of the jail, but those plans haven’t been finalized.

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly or without extensive analysis from a budgetary standpoint, but with the commitment from the sheriff and his staff to reduce expense and generate additional revenue, I feel now is the time to proceed and better utilize the facility given that the county has already invested a substantial amount of funds in the construction of the project,” Pittman said in the release.