First IBA Meeting

Walton Industrial Building Authority members met Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 19, 2021, at the Historic Walton County Courthouse to discuss a proposed bond resolution for a new jail. From left are Monroe Mayor John Howard, retired Superior Court Judge Eugene M. Benton, George Walton Academy Head of School Gary Hobbs and Walton County Commission Chairman David Thompson.

A reconstituted Walton Industrial Building Authority on Tuesday took the first step toward a proposed bond resolution for a new county jail.

The proposal to explore bond rates was approved by the authority and should come before the Walton County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 2.

Authority members intend to borrow an estimated $112 million, which would include interest. The bond amount would be capped at $115 million and would be paid back over 30 years. The jail project is expected to cost about $129 million.

The proposed bond’s estimated annual cost to the county, based on today’s interest rates, is $5.8 million, according to Walton County Commission Chairman David Thompson, who serves on the authority.

Thompson said it could take up to 3 years to complete construction on a new jail complex, due to current supply chain issues.

“This facility could have been built for $42 million eight years ago,” he told The Walton Tribune after the meeting.

Thompson said the proposed jail bond could be paid for by a special local option sales tax or increased property taxes. The future jail would house an estimated 851 inmates, he said. The chairman said a proposed facility would have the ability to be expanded to 2,000 beds “so commissions after us won’t have to look at a new site.”

Thompson projected it would cost each resident, based on a population of 100,000 people, an average of $58.44 per year to pay down the bond.

“This is in the taxpayers’ best interest,” he said. “We need this facility. The jail is overcrowded.”

Thompson reiterated that the current jail does not provide an adequate level of safety for inmates or law enforcement. He said it costs the Sheriff’s Office $18.92 a day per jail bed.

Bond attorney James Woodward said the authority was created in 1962 when the Georgia General Assembly amended the state Constitution. Authorities have been formed for various purposes, Woodward said, such as to pursue economic development or establish a hospital. This authority has the power to seek bonds to finance the construction of a new jail. Woodward is a partner in Gray Pannell & Woodward LLP with offices in Athens and Atlanta.

The bond attorney said the authority would own the new jail and lease it to the county.

Prior to the vote to consider a bond resolution, authority members voted to make retired Superior Court Judge Eugene M. Benton authority chair and George Walton Academy Head of School Gary Hobbs vice chair. The county Board of Commissioners had appointed Benton and Hobbs to the authority as at-large members. The other three authority members are Walton County Chamber of Commerce board Chairman Ned Butler, Monroe Mayor John Howard and Thompson.

Authority members also voted to readopt the authority’s seal.

Several vocal citizens had questions about the bond process and one woman asked if a referendum could be brought before the voters.

When a few residents tried to interject during the authority’s discussion, Benton paused the meeting. He explained that the meeting was open to the public but it was not a public hearing. Therefore, citizens were welcome to listen but not to interrupt authority business. He said they would have an opportunity to offer input once the county schedules public hearings on the matter.

Howard stressed to his fellow authority members that he was elected by the citizens of Monroe not Walton County. And, he said, most city residents understand the need for a new jail. However, the mayor wanted to go on record questioning what will be done with the current jail on South Madison Avenue, once the new jail complex is complete.

He later told The Tribune locating the jail to Cherry Hill Road would have been his preference.

The county has approved building the new jail complex off Georgia Avenue and Baker Street near the Government Building and Division of Family and Children Services building.

Thompson replied that 43% of inmates housed in the current jail are from Monroe.

“It is a Monroe problem [too],” he said.

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