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Commissioners approve $3.5 million jail expansion

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Commissioners approve $3.5 million jail expansion

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One member opposes, takes to social media

Jones County Commissioners approved the expansion of the jail, and a new 20-ton air conditioning unit for the Government Center while working through disagreements among themselves.

The Sept. 4 meeting was called to order by Board Chairman Chris Weidner and the meeting began with several visitors. Navicent Health District Manager Collins Hanson and Air Evan Lifeteam Director Joseph Phillips presented the commissioners with information about their respective services.

Hanson passed out summary sheets showing ambulances responded to an average of 250 calls in July and August and transported about 150 patients a month to the hospital. He said the average response time is 11 minutes, which is under their goal of 14 minutes.

The manager said he plans to keep the board informed of the information in the future.

Phillips said the Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter is headquartered in Milledgeville but is available to Jones County residents. He briefly explained a membership service that would provide emergency transport when needed for a small monthly fee.

“We believe this is an added value to the community,” he said.

Commissioner Jonathan Pitts expressed interest in having seminars from both agencies.

Martha Branson addressed the board to provide another petition to protect the neighborhoods of Joycliff Circle. She talked about the reason for their concerns, which is based in the potential uses of a large residence being constructed by Mark James.

“We ask for your support to ensure he stays within our zoning regulations,” Branson said.

She asked how long James had to take down an out building that was found out of compliance with county codes, and Zoning Officer Tim Pitrowski said he had until Sept. 10.

The speaker told board members that something good had come out of the James’ construction. She said a neighborhood watch had been formed, and the neighbors had gotten to know one another.

Another resident of Joycliff Circle, Mark Disque, reiterated Branson’s requests near the conclusion of the meeting.

“Keep your eyes on this property,” he pleaded. “Please be behind us.”

Weidner assured both presenters that the board and Pitrowski would do just that.

“We intend to make sure the zoning regulations are followed to the letter,” he said.

Public hearing

County Administrator Jason Rizner spoke to the board about the expansion of the Jones County Law Enforcement Center, specifically to increase the housing capacity for female inmates.

Rizner said it would be financed using the ACCG financing program that was also used to finance the Morris Bank Recreational Complex. The financing was put out to bid, and the county received four responses that fit the criteria.

He said the low bidder was Sterling National Bank, but an issue with the security of the loan necessitated moving to the next lowest bidder, BB&T. Rizner said the bank agreed to meet the terms of the low bidder with annual payments of $150,000.

Sheriff Butch Reece was asked to share his opinion, and he said for the past three years, the county has had to house many of its female prisoners in other counties because of the lack of space.

“We don’t want to wait until the federal government comes in here and forces us to expand,” he said.

Reece said the jail currently has 12 beds in the woman’s cellblock, and the additional space is needed immediately.

The topic was opened for public input, but there was none. The public hearing was closed, and the commissioners adopted a resolution that approved the financing of the project. The vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Daylon Martin opposed.

Old business

Board members voted to accept the bid from Total Comfort for the purchase of a 20-ton air handler to replace a 43-year old unit at the Government Center. The price of the new unit is $21,552. The vote was 4-1 with Martin opposed.

Comments

Martin said he opposed the motion for the jail because he thought more money should be spent on youth to keep them out of jail. He also said the financing of the expansion should have been put out to bid again to give local banks another chance to bid on the project.

Commissioner Sam Kitchens said he felt like he needed to stand up for himself and other board members concerning posts that had been made on social media by Martin. The post referred to Martin’s fellow commissioners as “liars, thieves and deceivers” and accused them of racism and sexism.

Kitchens said, since 2016, the board had reduced spending, increased efficiency, updated policies and increased the budget with no tax increases. He said employees have a safer working environment and are setting new safety records.

“I stand behind every vote I cast, and no amount of rhetoric is going to change the truth,” he said.

The commissioner said he is usually pretty thick skinned and does not usually take things personally.

“But I want to be real clear, I’m not a deceiver, liar, or thief. Jones County is my home and I take pride in representing every part of it. I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t stand up to unjust, blatant untruths,” he said.

Martin spoke again later during commissioners’ comments. He said since 2016 the budget had increased by $2 million, which meant increased spending. He also stated that there was a disparity of pay between women and men and races.

“There are concerns including a lack of consistency and concern for the poverty in the black portion of the county. I’m concerned District 4 is going to be allowed to go down the tubes,” he said.

Other approve agenda items:

• Property at 2668 Gray Highway rezoned from C-2 (general commercial) to M-1 (wholesale and light industrial)

• Comp plan amended to reduce the size of buffers in commercial and industrial zones

• 911 resolution for prepaid wireless charges to comply with new legislation