Sheriff, supervisors discuss options for county jail, including consolidation with city

Published 12:32 am Tuesday, March 7, 2017


NATCHEZ — While Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said he intended to wait for another meeting to talk about the need for a new county jail, Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus decided Monday’s meeting was a good time.

Patten had recently expressed his concerns about the existing jail in Sunday’s edition of The Democrat. Patten said the 40-year-old building had security, health and space issues that could put inmates, office employees and even the community at risk.

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Patten said early estimates indicate a new building that would house the sheriff’s office, county jail and Adams County Justice Court would cost approximately $8 million.

Monday, Patten said he did not say anything in the news article that he had not previously communicated to supervisors. Patten said he simply wanted to make the public aware of the conditions because this was not a project that could be kicked down the road for much longer.

“Forty years is a long time to make something work,” Patten said. “It is not like I want a shiny new toy — these are people’s lives at stake.”

Patten said he did not want to use the regional jail in Fayette like Lazarus had mentioned as an option for two reasons.

The Adams County Jail currently hosts inmates from Fayette because the facility is overcrowded, Patten said.

Second, Patten said he would not want to turn away the vendors servicing the jail, and he also mentioned that the county benefits off of taxes the local vendors pay.

Lazarus said he believed some issues — like the sprinkler system that requires a firefighter to connect it to the building before it is operational — could be patched.

Patten said he believed the building has reached the point at which putting more money into it is just throwing the money away.

“You can’t keep putting money into something that’s not efficient anymore,” Patten said. “The standards have changed over 40 years. We don’t meet any standards when it comes to the jail.”

Lazarus and District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray suggested consolidation might be an option.

Gray said if the facility was built for both the police department as well as the sheriff’s office, another revenue stream could be gained from the city. Gray said the city might even be willing to go in with the county to build a jail.

Lazarus took consolidation a step further.

“The public has a lot of faith in (Sheriff Patten),” Lazarus said. “Some people wonder why doesn’t the sheriff just take over all law enforcement?”

Lazarus made a motion to begin sheriff’s office and police department consolidation talks with the city but the motion died for a lack of a second.

Gray suggested Lazarus use one of his meetings with Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell to bring Natchez Police Chief Daniel White and Patten together and begin discussion about consolidating the jail.

“I’m not talking about a total takeover,” Gray said. “You have to go step by step.”

District 2 Supervisor David Carter said his concern was not need, but how many high ticket items are coming up right now — a community swimming pool, for which bids came in over budget at $1.7 million; the Natchez-Adams School District building program, which has a proposal for more than $40 million and now, potentially, an $8 million jail.

Carter said he also thinks the county needs to focus on roads, some of which are also more than 40 years old.

Patten said, again, that if the choice is between a new school and a new jail, then he urged the community to put the school first.

“I do think we have to improve education in this community for industry to come,” Patten said.

Lazarus said the county would also have to plan money for tearing down the old jail, and County Administrator Joe Murray said the location might be a good spot for a parking lot.

Lazarus said he understands that the county needs a new jail, but his concern is raising taxes.

“We have cut taxes twice,” Lazarus said. “I am doing everything I can to keep from raising people’s taxes.

“If you let me worm around with it and pick Joe’s brain, I’ll find a way to get you that jail.”

In other news, the county also accepted the property deeded by the school board for building a pool off Liberty Road. The school board at its last meeting voted to deed the 2.53-acre property to the city and the county.

Supervisors authorized advertising for the bidding process.

Board Attorney Scott Slover said bidders would be able to bid on either the pool, the support building, or both.

-The board accepted a $895,731.50 bid from Walter’s Construction of Laurel for construction of phase one of the ring levee at the former Belwood County Club site for industrial development.