Four times in the past 10 years — and in better economies — Forsyth County voters had turned down general bond obligations to build a new detention center.
So it was little surprise that Sheriff Ted Paxton, whose department oversees the crowded facility in downtown Cumming, was grateful Tuesday’s sales tax referendum passed.
“As the years go by, we’re actually going to see our costs reduced in what we’re having to pay out now as it relates to the inmate issue,” Paxton said.
“So for the people of Forsyth County, I’m very happy that this referendum passed and we will be moving forward.”
The six-year tax extension, which will fund construction of a jail expansion and new courthouse, among other projects, received 52 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Commissioner Pete Amos called the approval of the special purpose local option sales tax, known as SPLOST VII, “a great victory for Forsyth County.”
Commissioner Patrick Bell noted the close margin.
“It clearly wasn’t a landslide,” Bell said. “It tells us that we need to continue to earn the voters’ trust.”
He added that it was important that the referendum passed, for some projects have been needed for a long time.
Paxton said for the county to continue as it has been could have cost “tens of millions of needless dollars over the coming years.”
The existing courthouse and detention center, both of which date to the 1970s, are crowded.
The detention center’s capacity is 221. On a recent day, it held 192 inmates, with an additional 189 housed in other jurisdictions.
Paxton has said that from 2001-10 the county spent more than $10 million on out-of-county housing for inmates.
He had also estimated that if conditions didn’t change, it would cost the county an additional $66 million over the next 10 years.
The county pays $35 a day for each inmate housed at another facility. That amount is the result of an agreement with other agencies, but is subject to change.
While no specifics have been determined other than location, initial projections show the expanded jail would be able to house up to 700 inmates. There would be room to accommodate an additional 500 in the future.
The new courthouse and expanded jail will be across East Maple Street from each other downtown, likely linked by a tunnel or elevated walkway.