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It is time to build a jail
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Forsyth County News
Part of being responsible citizens of a progressive community is recognizing that there are certain obligations that have to be met — even though they may not be popular — in order to serve the common good.

There have to be landfills as a depository for garbage, even though no one wants to live close to a landfill.

There have to be sewer plants as part of the water system, even though no one likes the idea of sewer plants.
There has to be the condemnation of private property for roads and public facilities, even though most think that private property rights should be sacrosanct.

And there have to be jails.

Residents of Forsyth County have an opportunity on Tuesday to meet their obligation to public safety by voting to approve funding for a new county jail. They should do so.

The county’s existing detention center is far past its prime and should have been replaced more than a decade ago. Grand juries have repeatedly pointed out the need for a new jail. More than one sheriff has sought funds for construction. A host of different county commissioners have worked on proposals for new jail space. And still the people of the county have repeatedly refused to approve funding.

Three times since 2000 voters have turned down funding options that would have allowed jail construction. It’s time to reverse that trend.

A bond question on Tuesday’s ballot asks voters if they will approve funding for a new detention center at a cost of $75 million. A separate question addresses a bond for $16 million for a headquarters facility for the sheriff’s office. We think both should be approved.

Each time a jail issue has been placed before the voters, opposition has rallied around the same central issues — cost and location.

What those focused on expense fail to consider is the cost of doing nothing. Eventually, the county will have a new jail. As conditions deteriorate it is inevitable, and the possibility of the courts mandating construction at some point is very real.

The cost of building in the future is going to be more than the cost to build now.

In 2000, voters turned down a bond that would have built both a jail and administrative offices for the sheriff’s office for a total of $18.9 million. The combined cost for both on this year’s ballot is $91 million. What will the cost be another eight years down the road?

The current jail can house 135 inmates. The county routinely has 300 or more inmates incarcerated on a daily basis.
Without an adequate facility, the county continues to pay exorbitantly each year to transport prisoners to and from other facilities and to house them outside the county. One study suggests that the additional costs incurred by keeping the old jail will total more than the price of a new one by 2020.

As to the question of location, no proposed site is perfect for a detention center, but the location chosen by the county is certainly reasonable and defensible. One residential community is in proximity to the new jail, and its residents have made their opposition known in a very vocal manner.

But there isn’t a rational location anywhere in the county that isn’t going to draw some residential opposition, and the truth is the jail has been located in downtown Cumming for decades and that location hasn’t been a significant issue. The new site leaves it in downtown Cumming, away from most of the county’s residential areas.

The need for administrative facilities for the sheriff’s office is as compelling as the need for a new jail. Employees of the office are housed in a hodgepodge of different offices scattered around Cumming, some of them in aged and inadequate facilities that should have been abandoned years ago.

A consolidation of the sheriff’s office into a central facility would improve efficiency and be more cost effective. In short, law enforcement in our community would improve.

In the past, residents have acknowledged their responsibilities for the common welfare and voted to tax themselves for schools, parks, roads and other public needs. They have not shown the same level of support for public safety.

Tuesday offers a chance to do the responsible thing. Vote yes for both the jail and sheriff’s headquarters.