Hawkins may use jail money to buy new school buses

Jeff Bobo • Feb 20, 2007 at 10:57 AM

ROGERSVILLE - Hawkins County commissioners will consider buying school buses with some of the funding acquired for the long-overdue $12 million justice center and jail project.

The Hawkins County Commission voted in November 2005 to issue a $12.8 million bond to pay for the new jail and justice center facilities, and the county still doesn't have completed and approved architectural plans for the project.

Scott Gibson from Cumberland Securities, which administered the bond sale, told the County Commission's Budget Committee Tuesday that because that jail construction funding has not been spent, the commission is at risk of losing a portion of the money soon.

Gibson explained that there was a two-year time limitation placed on a portion of the funds. If that portion isn't spent within that time period, the county must pay the federal government any profits it gained from savings interest.

Specific dollar amounts were not available Tuesday.

"You wouldn't lose the whole cake, but you might lose some of the icing," Gibson told the committee.

Gibson explained that although the county is paying interest on the bond funds, the county is earning about 1 percent interest more than it's spending while the money sits waiting to be used on the justice center project.

Although work may begin on the project before November arrives, it's unlikely that all the money will be spent.

To avoid losing that interest gain, Gibson suggested spending some of the funding now on other county needs, and then seeking to replace those funds later when they are needed.

One immediate need discussed Tuesday was the purchase of new school buses for the county school system. County Mayor Crockett Lee said that purchase will cost nearly $500,000.

The Budget Committee didn't vote Tuesday on Gibson's suggestion, and Gibson said he planned to return to the committee soon with updated information.

But Lee said following Tuesday's meeting he thinks Gibson's suggestion is a good idea.

"If you've got money that you can use right now to meet a more immediate need, and then replenish it later, that makes a lot more sense that taking out another loan," Lee said. "I'm not sure of the exact amount of funds that we're at risk of losing if we don't spend the money. It's not going to be huge number, but if it's up to me I don't want to lose a penny if I don't have to."

The new jail and justice center project was hatched around October 2005 after a state jail inspector cited the jail for being overcrowded and in poor condition.

The county was given until June 2007 by the state jail inspector to have the new jail operating in the old Rogersville Kmart building that was purchased for the project - or face decertification of the existing jail. Lee has been in contact with the state to let them know circumstances beyond the county's control will prevent the county from meeting that deadline. There's been no official announcement on the state's position regarding extension of the deadline.

Aside from the jail, the new justice center will also house courtrooms, court clerks' offices and the sheriff's department.

It's still not known when the architectural plans for the justice center project will be completed and the project advertised for bids. Lee said Tuesday it's been quite awhile since he received an update on the plans from architect Tony Moore.

Attempts by the Times-News to contact Moore by telephone Tuesday were unsuccessful.

"I've got to talk to him about that here in the next few days," Lee said. "He's still got to go through the fire marshal, and whether any of the plans are there yet (for fire marshal review) I'm not sure. I don't have enough information right now to say when it will go to bid or how long before the plans are completed."

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