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Sheriff stands by jail study
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton is backing a 21-year-old study he says debunks the belief that a jail will cause the values of nearby property to plummet.

The study, the only one Paxton said he has found that addresses the issue, centers around the impact of jails on land values and public safety.

"That's the only empirical data that any of us have available to us that was in the most recent study done," he said. "There's no study that takes that one to task and says that's not the case."

But not everyone is as receptive to the findings of the study, called "Issues in Siting Correctional Facilities."

Clark Montoya lives in Wyngate subdivision, which backs up to the 33-acre site off Veterans Memorial Boulevard where Forsyth County wants to build a new detention center.

For some living in the neighborhood, the proposed $75 million, 480-bed jail would be as close as 72 feet to their homes.

Montoya said he hadn't seen the study, but is not buying what it's selling.

"We're in the worst economy we've been in years and everything is taking a hit across the board including other factors outside of our control," he said.

"This is just another factor that's going to decrease our property values."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections, the study was conducted in 1987 by the Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University Government Center for Environmental and Urban Problems.

According to a summary, researchers found that "correctional facilities have no negative effects on property value, public safety or the quality of life."

The county bought the property, which is between Veterans Memorial and Hutchinson Road at the southern end of Cumming city limits, for a jail site more than a year ago for $7.1 million.

Funding to build the facility would come from bonds, provided voters approve a referendum on the matter in November.

Not surprisingly, the jail issue has spawned heated debate between residents and county officials.

Montoya said he and his neighbors are concerned that the overall numbers for the jail released by the county "just don't make sense."

"Their numbers don't reflect anything for operation whatsoever," he said.

"So if you take what it costs to operate the county jail now, and then aggregate that out to what it's going to cost to operate a jail that's, what 10, 14 times as big, then that simply doesn't make any sense whatsoever."

Residents have organized efforts to oppose the Nov. 4 referendum through a Web site,

Montoya noted that sheriff's office data shows a downturn in crime, which makes him wonder why the new, larger jail is needed.

"There's simply a lot of questions that haven't been answered," he said.

The facilities selected in the study were in Arizona, Florida, Idaho and Tennessee.

Research also took into account construction of each facility six to 10 years before the study was conducted, facility location within one to two miles of residential areas and availability of computerized property value.

Researchers studied areas with correctional facilities, as well as comparable areas that did not include a jail.

They also considered how a jail would affect the local economy and, by checking the size and economic growth rate of the test areas, the magnitude of a facility's construction and operational expenditures for payroll, goods and services.

According to the findings, "All of the correctional facilities had a positive effect on the local economies."

In addition, the study shows that the greatest impact was for large facilities with large expenditures located in less urban or slow-growing communities.  

It also shows that in fast-growing communities, a facility with "sufficiently large" expenditures can have a "substantial positive impact."