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Residents sound off on jail plans
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Forsyth County News

Some residents of a subdivision near property reserved for a proposed new Forsyth County jail aren't thrilled with their potential new neighbors.

Tuesday night, about 50 residents of the Wyngate subdivision packed the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office to oppose the jail site on 33 acres off Veterans Memorial Boulevard.

"I totally agree we need a new jail," said Wyngate resident Holly Schneider.  "But I don't understand why, when you were planning this, you didn't consider how it would affect the lives of 168 homeowners."

Wyngate is located between Veterans Memorial and Hutchinson Road, near the Lanier Crossing Shopping Center at the southern end of the Cumming city limits.

Tuesday's town hall meeting, the first of two this month, was designed to help voters decide Nov. 4 whether to support funding the proposed 480-bed facility through a $XX million bond.

The new facility would replace the existing jail, which is also off Veterans Memorial and closer to downtown Cumming. That structure, built in the mid-1970s, is crowded.

Sheriff Ted Paxton and Jeff Pieper of jail architects Pieper O'Brien Herr fielded questions from the group.

"I'm not going to change your minds on this, but I want you to be informed," Paxton said.

The sheriff and architects presented designs for the proposed facility. County Manager Rhonda O'Connor answered questions from the administrative point of view.

Residents asked O'Connor why they had not been told the property was sold next to their subdivision.

O'Connor said newspaper notices were published advising of the potential purchase of the land, but there was little response from residents at that time.

"When the land was purchased over a year ago, we sent out public notices," O'Connor said. "And we had only one person call us. That's it."

Wyngate resident Greg Rider said he had just recently heard about the land purchase.

"First I heard of it was just the other day," Rider said. "We weren't told about any of this until after the fact."

In an attempt to ease the minds of residents worried about how it would look to have a jail 142 feet behind their homes, O'Connor elaborated on the outer designs of the building.

"We're not worried about how it looks," Schneider said. "Sure, it's a pretty building. But it's what's inside that concerns me."

Wyngate investor Shelley Laine had similar concerns.

"It's not right to put a jail here," she said. "This is a brand-new, beautiful community. These are taxpayers. The county has turned its back on the very people that make this county run."

Other residents wondered about possible breakouts.

"I'd be foolish to tell you we'll never have an escape," Paxton responded. "Nobody can tell you that."

He added that in the past eight years there had been only one jail break. He attributed that to the outdated design of the current jail.

Gary Gordijn, who works for the Gwinnett County Department of Corrections and lives in Forsyth, said most escapes occur during prisoner transport.

"The farther the jail is away from the courthouse the more likely there's going to be an escape," Gordijn said. "This jail needs to be close to the courthouse in town."

Hauling prisoners has been one of the chief motivating factors in seeking a new county jail.

Because of crowded conditions at the existing facility, the county is forced to house some 200 prisoners in nearby Cherokee and Dawson counties, as well as Floyd County in northwest Georgia and Irwin County in South Georgia.

It costs $45 per day to house one inmate elsewhere, not factoring in transportation costs, according to county figures.

Paxton said there are everyday risks "removing prisoners from a confined and secure environment and taking them here and there," while a new jail would require less movement.