Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TOP STORY >>County, city are at odds over jail

IN SHORT: Expansion plans in Lonoke County create tension between local, county officials.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

After a delay of several months blamed on their architects, Lonoke County wants the city planning commission and council to sign off quickly on jail expansion plans and issue a building permit that critics say would allow part of the jail into the right-of-way of two streets.

The planning commission last week deferred any action until it got an opinion from Randy Grice, the city attorney, concerning whether the city could allow the second intrusion on to its property even if it wanted to.

“This is exactly the reason I ran for office,” said Alderman Pat Howell, who said the county built a 911 center out into the street and blocked off an alley without any sort of public hearing or action.

“What they did was allow the county on to city property,” he said.

Howell and Mayor Thomas Privett raised their voices during the discussion.

Howell said the city in the past allowed the county to build to the edge of the sidewalk, but that “they built 10 feet beyond the sidewalk.”

“Where are we going to give away part of the street next?” Howell asked.

Nobody in the free world has built under power lines, but they did,” said Howell.

“They are trying to build in the street right-of-way,” said commis-sion member Fay White. “We let them do it once, are we going to let them do it again?”

County Judge Charlie Trout-man said Wednesday that the county just wants to expand the existing jail to house an additional 20 prisoners by squaring up the current structure, which juts out into the right-of-way on Third Street and on Wright Street.
“We took (the plans) to the city, and the mayor’s going to try to rush it through,” Troutman said.

“I know Pat’s bent out of shape. As far as the property we own and amount of money, it’s our only option,” Troutman added.
“If they get away with this,” said Howell, “what’s to stop other residents and builders from ignoring the city’s laws and boundaries?”

A motion was made by Planning Commissioner Brook Knox to ask the city attorney to find out if the city could legally deed part of its right-of-way or street to the county.

“It limits access to us,” said John Tackett, who lives across Third Street from the jail. He complained that Wright Street also was turned into a one-way street without any sort of public hearing. “It’s not what’s best for my family. At what point do you say no and what are the criteria?”

Commission member Dorothy Kirkemier said the commission should accommodate the city if possible, saying she didn’t want to see the Lonoke County jail turning loose prisoners the way the overcrowded, often-closed Pu-laski County Detention Center often does.

Repairs and the proposed expansion are paid for from $300,000 in General Improvement Funds courtesy of state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, state Rep. Susan Schulte, R-Cabot and state Rep. Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke.

So far, the jail has a new roof, new stainless steel, inmate-resistant fixtures and plumbing repairs.

Troutman said he hoped the trio would be able to get another $300,000 to this next legislative session to finish the jail expansion and to complete conversion of the old John Deere building into county offices.