New jail tops list of county needs

County’s financial picture looks good

By Kevin Spradlin

* State of the County (PDF)

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County government’s fund balance is up and untapped during the current fiscal year. In fact, the county’s added to the rainy day fund this year despite planning to take about $1.2 million from it.

The county, said Rick Sago on Tuesday during his State of the County address at the commissioners’ monthly public meeting, equals a nearly $3 million swing. In 2011, the county had an available fund balance of $8.18 million. That has grown to $11.17 million this year.

“We’re continually find ways to save us money,” Sago said. “Our budget certainly is not pressed in any way, shape or form.”

Sago noted the county’s property value is up 5.19 percent, to $3,062,680,734 in 2014 from $2,911,563,391 in 2011. The increase is without revaluation, Sago noted. He also noted the property tax rate of 81 cents for $100 assessed value hasn’t changed since a decrease in 2008.

This image from Richmond County Manager Rick Sago's State of the County presentation on Tuesday shows Richmond's available fund balance compared to that of surrounding counties.

This image from Richmond County Manager Rick Sago’s State of the County presentation on Tuesday shows Richmond’s available fund balance compared to that of surrounding counties.

A number of projects commissioners have discussed in recent years’ retreats have moved forward. The new water maintenance facility and combined maintenance facility both are under construction, each at an estimated cost of $500,000, and the county has jumpstarted the consolidation of emergency dispatching services after the commissioners on Tuesday approved its part in the process. The cities of Rockingham and Hamlet, along with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, already had signed on.

The consolidation will mean savings of taxpayer dollars, Sago said, especially in the first few years of the merger. In addition, grants are being applied for to fund construction of a new 911 center.

Other projects:

* Vagas Jackson, county tax administrator, is investigating new tax software for his office, estimated to cost between $400,000 and $700,000;

Rick Sago County Manager

Rick Sago
County Manager

* The overhaul of the county website was completed at less than $70,000 — under budget;

* Cole Auditorium at Richmond Community College needs a new roof, at a cost of $170,000; and

* The consolidation of county administrative offices into the current First Bank building on Fayetteville Road.

Still not tackled yet, though, is a new jail. Sago said of  the new facility, which could cost $14 million: “We all know that’s been out there. Eventually, that’s going to come up.”

Sheriff James Clemmons Jr., in the gallery on Tuesday, shook his head to signify the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. The 39-year-old jail has a capacity for 72 confinees.

“Where the $14 million’s gonna come from, I’m not sure,” Sago said.

James Clemmons Sheriff

James Clemmons

Of the 12 projects, Sago said three are complete, six are in progress or being address, one is under consideration, one was voted down — the sales tax referendum for the sports complex — and one, the jail, has yet to be addressed.

In “Richmond County Sheriff’s Office: 233 Years of Public Service,” Tom and May MacCallum detail the history of the construction of new jail facilities and repairs over the centuries:

* Sheriff Edward Williams (1780 to 1784) “protested the insufficiency of the county’s jail” and on Jan. 22, 1784, “a young man, Eleasar ‘Azar’ Tillen, burned to death in it.”

* The first authorized county jail was in 1786, location unknown;

* In 1800, Duncan McFarland was jailed in what he called the “Rockingham Dungeon” in a letter to the governor;

Kevin Spradlin | The Richmond County Jail was built in 1976. Replacing it could cost approximately $14 million.

Kevin Spradlin |
The Richmond County Jail was built in 1976. Replacing it could cost approximately $14 million.

* It’s believed a new jail was contracted to be built, in 1876, near where the 1924 court house was to be built;

* A new jail was built on Hancock Street in 1910 – it was torn down on Aug. 14, 1979;

* On the heels of two jailbreaks, the Richmond County grand jury on July 25, 1940 “insisted upon” repairs to the county jail;

* In the Dec. 16, 1957 issue of the Richmond County Journal, Jailer Mack Wallace spoke in favor of an $80,000 bond issue for jail improvements. The jail, he said, needed an addition to house white women, mental patients and juveniles;

* A grand jury report in 1946 blasted conditions at the county jail, but commissioners “showed no inclination to call for a bond issue to improve them.” Said Sheriff R.W. Goodman at the time: “I know we haven’t got a hotel down there;”

* Superior Court Judge Robert A. Collier Jr. said in March 1976 he would close the jail if necessary. The jail had been renovated in 1968. The judge was assured the county would build a new jail whether or not a bond issue passed;

* Bids were opened in April 1976 for a new jail, at a cost of $223,408, behind the court house. Another $150,000 to $175,000 was to be spent on furnishings.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Public safety, Rockingham

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  • Joe DeBerry

    It is time to build a new County Jail and with all the wasted projects the county and city are doing and trying to do and wanting to waste tax dollars on a Bank for the County commissioners to sit in for no good reason ,its time to put tax payers money to good use as a jail is needed as is more areas in and around Rockingham . But we do not have the right Politicians or County and City Managers that can do their job any longer and that comes from the ones that have been in office over 10 years and it shows because after so long in office they have lost interest in what the County and City needs are and are not working for the Citizens needs as well. With elections coming up in 19 months we should be seeing new City and County Leaders in office .

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