A larger cell inside the Rhea County Jail in Dayton, Tenn., can house at least 10 male inmates with a shared toilet and shower stall in the far left corner. Currently, officials continue the debate over the jail's expansion or building a justice center off-site in order to alleviate overcrowding. Photo by Kimberly McMillian
DAYTON, Tenn. -- Rhea County commissioners will be asked to "man up" and face the county's financial needs in a special workshop Thursday.
Commission Chairman Jim Reed said that after the panel's October meeting two commissioners asked for the workshop to consider the county's needs, specifically a jail or justice center.
"We can't produce our own money like the federal government does; we have to balance our budget," Reed said. "We're at a crisis point in our fund balance. One emergency will take our fund balance away."
Commissioners said taxes have not been raised in about 10 years, yet costs have increased significantly.
"Three years ago, gas cost half what it does now, and most of what we do requires fuel," Reed said. "And we're paying about $200,000 a year more for employee insurance than we did two years ago."
Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson said he asked for the workshop because the full commission has not discussed the budget, particularly the cost of a new jail or justice center.
"I know the sheriff has been quoted as saying he is 110 percent against any tax increase" to pay for the jail/justice center project, Masterson said. "But we only have X dollars, and to fund anything we have to have additional money. I know the sheriff gave us a plan to pay for it, but a majority of that money already is in the budget."
Masterson said the estimate recently presented to the commission for a jail or justice center is about $15 million, not including $900,000 per year to operate a new facility. He said new debt service plus operating costs would be more than $2 million -- money not available from current sources.
At last Thursday's meeting, he said, "I'm looking for people to understand the money is not going to be there, and the only way to get it is to man up and do something. If we don't, the state will come in and do it for us."
Reed said Rhea County is in the bottom 10 percent of counties for property tax rates in the state.
"The opportunity to live in one of the lowest property tax rate counties without a wheel tax has its drawbacks," he said.
Tom Davis is based in Dayton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.