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Taskforce hears about need for new facilities
Judge, sheriff tout sales tax possibility
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Forsyth County News

 

Members of a local taskforce were reminded Wednesday why Forsyth County needs a new courthouse and jail.

Sheriff Ted Paxton and Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley rehashed their recent pleas to county commissioners to put the projects on a possible referendum to extend the 1-cent sales tax.

The issue could go before voters as early as November.

In his presentation, Bagley told the Forsyth County Mental Health Criminal Justice Taskforce that the county qualifies for a third Superior Court judge, but the state has not approved the funding to pay for one.

In the meantime, other judges have been filling in to help Bagley and Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson handle an overwhelming criminal caseload.

Bagley said the courthouse doesn’t have enough courtrooms equipped with appropriate security measures for handling the legal proceedings of criminal cases involving incarcerated defendants.

“This is a real problem now and it’s going to continue to get worse and worse as our population burgeons from almost 180,000 and it’s going to continue to grow,” Bagley said.

He added that even if voters were to approve of building a new facility using sales tax revenue, it would be 2015 or '16 before it could be used.

Paxton covered the need to replace the jail, which is on Veterans Memorial Boulevard and has a maximum occupancy of 226.

He said projections showed the county detention center would have a population of 450 inmates by the end of this year.

“We have already exceeded that number this year,” Paxton said. “We have spent a little over $14 million in the past decade just to house prisoners [elsewhere].

"If those numbers continue to climb and we do nothing to correct this, in the next decade, the amount in 2020, we’re going to spend about another $66 million just to house prisoners.”

Paxton noted that the courthouse and jail projects go “hand in hand.”

“If both don’t occur, then we should just do nothing,” Paxton said.

Members of the taskforce also discussed the upcoming closure of the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome and the Avita Crisis Stabilization Unit, which recently opened in nearby Flowery Branch.

Their next meeting is scheduled for August.