Archived Story

Brinn seeks jail referendum

Published 3:50pm Monday, September 9, 2013

Beaufort County Commissioner Gary Brinn wants Beaufort County voters to decide the issue of building a new jail.

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Brinn called for the matter to be taken to county voters in the form of a referendum during the May 2014 primary elections.

“I have major concerns of how we are proceeding with the jail situation. I know my concerns are shared by what I view as a majority of the citizens of Beaufort County. This issue is very complicated and I have reached the conclusion that the best way to handle the jail issue is to carry it directly to the citizens in the form of a referendum,” Brinn said in the release. “In terms of dollars what is being proposed to build a new jail is comparable to the millions spent with the school bonds. The citizens had their say on that and I feel giving the citizens a voice on the jail is the right thing to do. I just hope my fellow commissioners share my view of putting the citizens of our county first.”

Brinn’s referendum proposal does not appeal to at least one other commissioner.

“I certainly don’t want to build a new jail, but it’s needed infrastructure,” said Commissioner Al Klemm, who’s opposed to conducting a referendum on the jail issue.

Klemm said one of the responsibilities of county commissioners is to build new infrastructure when it’s needed. When there is such a need, it’s up to the commissioners to act accordingly, he said.

“The (new) jail is needed infrastructure,” said Klemm, adding that he doesn’t believe county taxpayers would vote to pay for building a new jail.

Brinn, a Republican, has contacted state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort County, and state Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven County, for assistance in getting the General Assembly to approve the referendum, according to the news release.

The General Assembly would have to approve a special bill that would allow Beaufort County to conduct such a referendum, said Kellie Harris Hopkins, the county’s elections director, on Monday.

Brinn and Hood Richardson, a fellow commissioner, are on record as doubting the need for a new jail.

Last month, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to not locate the jail at the Beaufort County Industrial Park, which had previously been selected to house the new jail. Voting for the new site were board Chairman Jerry Langley and commissioners Al Klemm, Ed Booth and Robert Belcher. Voting against it were commissioners Hood Richardson, Stan Deatherage and Gary Brinn.

Earlier this year during a board retreat, the board voted to locate the jail at the Beaufort County Industrial Park, which is on the north side of the Pamlico-Tar River. The Chocowinity site is south of the river.

The board, also with a 4-3 vote, formed a new jail committee (Langley, Brinn and Klemm as its members) and charged it with determining if the Chocowinity site is feasible for a jail, overseeing the design of the jail and determining costs to build the jail. That committee met Aug. 30.

At the board’s August meeting, Richardson said the new jail committee is nothing more than a “yes-man committee” that will give Langley the jail he wants. Richardson also said there’s no need for the committee to determine if the Chocowinity site is feasible for a jail because that industrial park is in the process of being certified by the state as an industrial park that could accommodate a jail.

Richardson said other alternatives to a new jail, including continuing to use the existing jail, have not been thoroughly considered. Commissioner Stan Deatherage supports building a new jail, but he wonders if county taxpayers would be willing to approve issuing bonds to pay for it.

Commissioner Ed Booth said he’s not satisfied with either industrial park housing a new jail.

Last month, Brinn said the commissioners should not “rush to judgment” when it comes to building a new jail. He said the county must carefully consider a location for a new jail and the cost of building a new jail before making a decision.

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