Committee pushing jail referendumPublished 5:15pm Friday, October 18, 2013
Keith Kidwell, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, believes perseverance can pay off.
Despite two failed attempts during the past two months by some Beaufort County commissioners to conduct a referendum on building a new county jail, the Beaufort County Republican Party’s Executive Committee is behind a third attempt to secure such a referendum. Earlier this week, the committee adopted a resolution asking the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to conduct a referendum on any borrowing of money associated with building a new jail in the county. The committee contends a “citizen referenda” on major public borrowing is “a fundamental voting right.” The committee also believes that financing a new jail for Beaufort County could lead to substantial tax increases.
The resolution adopted by the committee calls on all commissioners elected as Republicans to support a referendum as “the Republican Party has always believed in bottom up government which respects the rights, wishes, and perogatives of the taxpayers.’’
Kidwell explains the committee’s move: “The simple summary on that is we’re looking for transparency and fiscal responsibility, which currently the county commissioner are not doing either.”
Kidwell also explained why the committee is pursuing a referendum when the two previous efforts failed.
“I feel it is the responsibility of the Republican Party to represent the concerns of the people, and I hope that’s what we are doing,” Kidwell said. “If we can get the people of Beaufort County motivated to get their voice heard, I think the county commissioners would have to step back and pay attention.”
Kidwell also questions the last jail study performed for the county — and the consulting firm that conducted the study.
“There has been no study done — by an independent organization that does not stand to make a profit from the building of a jail — as to what the need in Beaufort County truly is. There are organizations out there that do these studies and say, ‘You need a jail. You don’t need a jail. If you need a jail, this is what you should build and this is where you should build it.’ We had no input outside of Moseley from any professional. And Moseley stands to make a profit from this,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell refers to Moseley Architects, which is based in Charlotte and specialists in jail facilities. Moseley prepared a space-needs analysis regarding a possible new jail and law-enforcement center for Beaufort County. The firm has recommended building a 232-bed jail, a new Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office facility and video courtrooms (for first appearances by defendants on charges and possible bail hearings) for just under $22 million, according to Republicans like Commissioner Hood Richardson who are opposed to building a new jail.
A little more than a year ago, three plans were presented by Moseley Architects to the county (see accompanying sidebar). Those options have been modified since then.
Original jail options
These options regarding a new jail and possibly other law-enforcement/judicial facilities were presented by Moseley Architects’ Todd Davis and Dan Mace to Beaufort County officials in October 2012.
Option A, at a total estimated project budget of $33,487,297.29, is a three-story, 94,460-square-foot facility with 290 beds, to be built behind the existing courthouse. The plan calls for the demolition of two, possibly three, buildings on Market Street: the building housing the Beaufort County Health Department’s environmental-health division and tax office, the sheriff’s office and possibly the building owned by Richardson, as it shares an exterior wall with the sheriff’s office. The proposed budget allots an estimated $3 million to construct new buildings for displaced county officers, though no location for those offices was proposed.
Option B, with an estimate of $28,147,642.18, is a three-story, 85,825-square-foot detention center holding 262 beds. No demolition of surrounding buildings is called for in this plan, where the loading entrance is located on the eastern side of the building, behind the Market Street buildings, and prisoner transport will take place down the narrow drive off Third Street, between the county offices and 117 W. Third St., occupied by attorney David Francisco.
Both options draw the jail’s main entrance on Union Alley, between Second and Third streets. As the plans would require construction on existing parking lots behind the courthouse, Moseley Architects included $5 million in the budgets for a parking deck in the near vicinity. At three stories, Mace said, the proposed buildings would approach a 64-foot height.
Option C plans for a one-story, 84,275-square-foot facility with 290 beds, at a projected cost of $22,795,638.46. Included in the budget is an acquisition of 25 acres of land for the new facility.
Mace and Davis were clear that the three plans represented jumping off points for the harder work of tweaking the options.