Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TOP STORY > >Villines: Fund jail expansion

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior writer

Pulaski County Judge Floyd “Buddy” Villines has a new plan to increase capacity at the Pulaski County Detention Center, he told Jacksonville Rotarians last week.

Villines said that the county could put aside its $1.8 million in 2007 carryover funds—enough to pay off existing capital improvement bonds for the prosecutor’s new offices—then commit funds to pay off about $4.5 million over five years for a new 240-bed medium security unit inside the existing jail fence.

Villines said county revenues were sufficient to pay half of the $2.8 million cost of maintenance and operations and that he hoped Little Rock and North Little Rock could match those funds.

Currently the county lockup can hold 880 inmates from Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sherwood and unincorporated parts of Pulaski County, but Villines and Sheriff Doc Holladay would like to nearly double that number to 1,530.

He said the jail usually has about 50 inmates sleeping on the floor in addition to the 880 for whom there are beds.

Villines, the Democratic incumbent being challenged by Republican Phil Wyrick in the November general election, has hit dead ends in several previous attempts to fund jail rehabilitation and expansion money, including a dedicated quarter-cent dedicated jail tax voted down in 2006.

Former UALR President Charles Hathaway, chairman of the county’s jail task force, has endorsed the sheriff’s four-step plan.

“Jacksonville, Maumelle and Sherwood are more than paying their share,” said Villines.

But Little Rock and North Little Rock, which provide most of the inmates, have been slow to pay their share, but quick to blame the county, Villines said.

“Little Rock’s still paying what it paid 20 years ago,” said Villines. “Little Rock doesn’t want to pay.”

Villines said architects Taggart and Foster had drawn up the new facility, and after the quorum court approves his plan, he’ll seek bids for construction and also bids for an interest rate on the loan.

Villines also complimented Jacksonville Rotarian Pat O’Brien for reorganizing, after years of chaos, the county clerk’s office.

O’Brien is running unopposed for reelection in November.

The four-step plan calls for finishing repair of the old and unused jail, then moving 160 inmates from the work center to the old jail, which is inside the jail fence.

Villines said that could be completed by October then building the 240-bed barracks-style jail, also within the fence, then finding the funds to reopen the work center at its 240-bed capacity.

The final step is construction of another 240-bed unit for dangerous offenders.

Speaking briefly of the ongoing struggle for control of the Lake Maumelle Watershed, Villines said he favored administering the watershed in the county using subdivision regulations, rather than through zoning, a far-more expensive and intrusive operation.

Lake Maumelle is the primary drinking water reservoir in central Arkansas.

“We don’t have the staff or money to take care of 67 square miles of watershed,” he said. “We can better protect the watershed through subdivision regulation.”