By MICHAEL BROIHIER
3:03 PM EDT, October 13, 2010
A great man once said, “Would of’s and should of’s are like armpits and back sides; they both stink and everyone’s got ‘em.” Okay, he didn’t say back sides, but the point is that there is nothing worse than having to listen to some sad sack mope about an opportunity missed. If our elected officials, specifically the Judge Executive and the four magistrates, kick the new jail-can down the road, they will be missing an opportunity that may not present itself again.
Lincoln County is rife with lagging economic indicators, those measurable indices of economic growth, like employment and housing starts that trend behind the actual state of the economy, but the truth is the economy is improving. If the Fiscal Court punts on building a new jail they will surely miss the small window of opportunity presented by recessionary times.
Borrowed money is as cheap as it has ever been and it won’t get any cheaper. The county can get a loan to build a jail at less than four percent interest, and that is unheard of. The Fed can’t lower the prime lending rate, the basis of other lending rates, below zero percent, and that’s about where it is now. If the Fiscal Court waits too long to finance a jail, it will only cost taxpayers more.
Since building starts are currently low, contractors are fiercely competitive in their bids for new jobs. Builders are at the point of taking jobs at just above cost to keep their crews working and equipment moving. At the public forum on jail construction Tuesday night one wag said, “Contractors will gut shoot each other to get a job,” and he’s right; the contractor who is still working at the end of a recession like the one we are currently enduring wins.
But the most important reason for building a jail is that we need it. Tuesday night, representatives of the law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial communities said that they are not arresting, prosecuting and jailing dangerous criminals because they know that the county jail cannot handle any more prisoners without costing the taxpayers money, and that is not the job of cops, prosecutors or judges.
We are at more than 100 percent capacity at the jail; if the county attorney puts a Lincoln County resident in jail, he displaces a prisoner from Garrard County or the state, and instead of making money, we bill those entities, we lose money. By not building a jail with sufficient capacity we are forcing every member of the law enforcement food chain to make decisions they are not trained, sworn or entitled to make. Bad guys get arrested, prosecuted and sent to jail, don’t they?
Ultimately, what it comes down to is guts…moral courage. Judge Demrow is adamant about pushing a vote through as soon as possible, and Magistrate David Faulkner supports him. Magistrates Jim Adams and Johnny Padgett were not at the Tuesday night meeting so it’s impossible to judge how they feel on the issue, but Magistrate Terry Wilcher is quite clear; unless Jailer David Gooch can guarantee that a new jail won’t force the Fiscal Court to raise taxes, he does not want to vote on funding the project before the election. So, here’s the question, why would you vote for a politician who wants to delay an important decision until after they’ve garnered your vote. Demrow summed it up best by saying anyone who wanted to delay the vote until after the election is a “political coward.” No truer words were ever spoken.
Gooch is ready to move ahead and build a 250-bed or larger jail. Sadly, jails are businesses, and business is good. A large jail will mean jobs and income for Lincoln County; surrounding counties, the state and federal law enforcement are always looking for places to house prisoners, and a jail with excess bed space will be a source of income for the county, and the jail could become a profit center instead of the cash sink it now is.
Demrow will ask for a vote at the next fiscal court session on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Between now and then voters must contact their sitting magistrate and tell them they want a new jail. Remember, fortune favors the bold.