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County mulls new home for sheriff's office
Nov. 4 ballot measure possible
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County commission is considering whether to pair funding for a new jail with a new sheriff's headquarters.

County Manager Rhonda O'Connor on Tuesday asked commissioners to consider placing a question on the Nov. 4 ballot, asking voters to support financing for a new sheriff's administration headquarters.

ommissioners discussed whether such a question should be separate or combined with the proposed bond referendum for a new detention center, or if it should be on the ballot at all.

"We could pursue this alternative," said Chairman Charles Laughinghouse during the commission's work session. "If it passes with the bond issue, fine. If it doesn't, we have other alternatives we could consider."

O'Connor does not have an estimate on the cost to build a new sheriff's headquarters.

The project could also be funded through the newly created public facilities authority, which can issue bonds to help build projects totaling less than $20 million.

Sheriff Ted Paxton, who attended the meeting, said he was in favor of placing the item on the November ballot.

"We are going to get a better deal from our contractors if we come to them with a package deal," Paxton said.

The county bought 33 acres off Veterans Memorial Boulevard last summer with plans of placing both the jail and the sheriff's headquarters next to each other, Paxton said.

"The operation of the sheriff's office will be much more streamlined and it will work more efficiently when all the components can be located in a central area rather than being scattered all over the county," he said.

Jail architect Pieper O'Brien Herr has begun the first of three preliminary design phases on the jail. The commission, however, has held off on giving the go-ahead for the second phase, estimated to cost $660,000.

Commissioners David Richard and Jim Harrell have opposed putting any more money toward preconstruction for the time being.

Also Tuesday, commissioners took another look at the total cost of building a 480-bed facility. Pieper O'Brien Herr hired a company to estimate the final cost of the project, as did the county.

Both companies, Gleeds and Carter Goble Lee, came up with estimates of about $82 million, which includes the cost to buy the land.

"We ran dual estimations on the project to make sure we were getting good numbers," O'Connor said.

She said construction could be completed by late 2011 or early 2012. According to O'Connor, the county could save time and money by proceeding with all three preliminary jail design phases.

The current jail is crowded, forcing the county to house prisoners in nearby Cherokee and Dawson counties, as well as Floyd County in northwest Georgia and Irwin County in south Georgia.

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

"It's just a scattershot," Paxton said. "We're driving all over the state constantly."

No action was taken at Tuesday's work session, but the commission could adopt a resolution on referendum ballot language July 22.