County picks Hospital Site for 2nd time, minutes revealed

Rhea County Commission Minutes revealed, 2015-2017. (Rhea Review)

Is the Recent Resolution to build the Jail at Old Hospital Site the County’s Final Decision?

It’s been a long road for Rhea County Commissioners as they’ve worked to decide on a location for Rhea County’s new justice center.  In Monday’s special-called meeting, commissioners chose the old hospital site in a 6-3 vote.

The decision sparked an online debate, but most were glad the matter had been resolved.  But was it?

Rhea County Commission meeting minutes (all public record) from November 17, 2015, showed commissioners had already voted 8-1 in favor of choosing the old hospital site.  The most recent resolution passed with only a 6-3 vote.

Here are portions of the actual documents from both meetings – nearly identical.  (full documents available for download below).

Rhea County Commission – Regular Meeting – November 17, 2015
Rhea County Commission – Special Called Meeting – July 31, 2017

But now that Rhea County taxpayers are being saddled with the cost of housing inmates in other counties, commissioners may have the motivation required to get the project underway.

But Sheriff Mike Neal is not convinced.

“They’ve revisited the downtown site, the green site, and the hospital site.  My concern is that this is going the same direction it’s been going.  Kicking the can around the block, voting on something that’s already been voted on.”

“They’ve wasted 30 days having Hewlett-Spencer provides estimate for the other sites.  Now we’re no closer to building a jail than they were in 2015.”

The recent resolution didn’t impress TCI (TN Corrections Institute) officials either says Neal who met with them earlier today.

“We’re not making in progress, and TCI is not recognizing this as any progress,” added Neal.  “It’s the same place we were in 2015.”

More bad news came from TCI today.  Hopes of housing inmates in the “Nursing Home” area of the old hospital during construction were dashed.

To become viable, the facility would require 12 guards (3 per shift) costing $480k per year in addition to the $300k to fix the building.  To upgrade the facility, concrete walls, new bathrooms, and a required 60 square foot per inmate.

“It’s gonna cost you more money to keep those 30 people than it would be to house them in other jails,” states Neal.

“I’ve got 47 inmates being housed in six counties around the state right now,” says Neal who says the $53,000 per month cost will only balloon as Rhea County Jail’s population is reduced further.  This doesn’t account for the high cost of transporting inmates.

“These commissioners have five days a week to work.  I suggest they use everyday until the issue is resolved,” exclaimed Neal.

On August 27, Neal will have to report or be cited to court if the county jail is housing more than 87 inmates, the approved number for the facility.

The jail is currently housing 94 inmates, far better 212 when the court order was issued, yet way over the suggested 75 needed to account for a sudden influx in intakes.

Conservative estimates project the total amount Rhea County will be forced to pay is over $1.3 million per year to house inmates in other facilities.  Construction on a new facility will require 12-15 months if started today.

Download Meeting Minutes (pdf format)

November 17, 2015 – Rhea County Commission Regular Meeting

July 31, 2017 – Rhea County Commission Special Called Meeting

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