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Talks about bi-county jail move ahead

Logan and Franklin County officials met in Paris on Tuesday, March 25 and took their first steps toward building a bi-county jail to house prisoners.

The meeting was an outgrowth of informal talks between officials of the two counties that started in January. Both county Quorum Courts authorized the meeting earlier this year.

A bi-county jail of between 150 and 250 beds is being considered to solve overcrowding issues at the two county jails. Officials have also said building a larger jail to accommodate prisoners from both counties will be more efficient and cost-effective.

The group formed a bi-county jail committee and elected, in a voice vote, Logan County Justice of the Peace Mike Schluterman to chair the group.

On April 10, the Franklin County Quorum Court is going to consider whether to move forward, since only the initial meeting had been authorized.

“The meeting went very well,” Schluterman said afterward.

If the Franklin County Quorum Court authorizes further meetings, Logan County Judge Gus Young said the next step is to ask the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District of Fort Smith to help the counties find a project manager and an architect.

“When we get applications for an architect and project manager, we’ll narrow them down to three or five and they’ll get to make a presentation to the joint committee,” Young said. “Then we’ll move forward to bed size, estimated cost and location issues.”

As for bed size, Logan County Sheriff Steve Smith and Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Boen have said they don’t want to build a jail that has less than 150 beds, according to Young. The Franklin County jail is authorized to hold 35 prisoners but housed 51 inmates on the day of the meeting, Boen said. Logan County’s jail is authorized for 34 prisoners, but had 38 on the day of the meeting, according to Smith.

As for location, the Caulksville-Branch area has been mentioned. However, Caulksville has no sewer system.

As for how to pay for it, Young and Smith have previously mentioned a sales tax which would have to be approved by voters in both counties.

“As for how much of a sales tax to ask for, we’re not to that point yet,” Young said.

Another financing method was mentioned by Sasha Grist, who attended the meeting representing WAPDD. She told the group about a USDA loan program that finances the building of public facilities in rural areas. Schluterman said the committee is going to check that out.

“We’re also going to look into getting state prisoners to help with the construction,” Schluterman said. “We’re going to check out all the angles we can to save money.”

Questions have also been raised about whether it’s constitutional to build a bi-county facility under Arkansas law, which requires counties to build a jail in the county seat.

“But the law also says that a county Quorum Court can establish a jail and some location other than the seat of justice,” Young said.

Young also said that the idea of a bi-county jail is being well received in a state where jail overcrowding at the county level is commonplace.

“We’re getting positive feedback from all across the state,” Young said.

“Building a bi-county jail is do-able, but we certainly have a lot of hurdles to overcome,” Young said.

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