Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek says there are few options but to go with a $37-per-day, per-inmate contract with Carroll County to house a half-dozen or more of Grundy's female prisoners while county officials work to build a new jail.
Even at 208 miles away, Carroll County was the closest jail that could house Grundy's female prisoners, said Cleek, once the chief deputy at the sheriff's department.
Last month, the Grundy County Commission informally settled on a $4.98 million jail design and now is studying funding sources, which include loans and a possible increase in property taxes or a new wheel tax, Cleek said.
He said officials can't put figures to those ideas because the county will go through a property reappraisal this year and they won't know what the impact will be until that process is complete.
Cleek favors a wheel tax over a property tax increase, because it's applied to all vehicle owners and not just property owners.
Meantime, the cost of housing male and female inmates in other jails will continue to mount. Most male inmates housed outside the county because of overcrowding are closer than Carroll County, but even repeated trips to the jails in Marion and Sequatchie counties add up, he said.
But for women, the trip to the Carroll County Jail in Huntingdon, Tenn., is 208 miles, one way. If a county police cruiser gets an optimistic average of 20 miles-per-gallon -- transport vans get poorer mileage -- at an assumed cost of $3.60 per gallon for gas, it takes about 42 gallons, round trip, to go to Huntington one time. It takes two round trips to get the female inmate, bring her back for court, take her back to the Carroll County Jail and return to Altamont.
That's $302 in gas to go 832 miles, plus the deputy's salary and benefits for the day, officials said.
The county's 1970s-era jail hasn't been state certified since the mid-1990s and is designed to hold 34 inmates, men and women combined, with only four beds for women. But it often holds up to 13 women and more than 50 male and female inmates combined, officials said.
When inspectors visited on March 1, they found continuing structural, design and physical problems with the building, like a single commode in one area for 29 inmates, no facilities for segregating sick or violent inmates and "serious overcrowding."
"The sheriff and jail staff have done all that they can do to meet state jail standards," inspector Miller Meadows states in his report.
"It is now up to the Grundy County officials to move forward with new jail construction, and I urge them to do so immediately," he states. "The county is at a critical point for possible lawsuits from inmates."
A 2010 feasibility study and needs assessment performed by Chattanooga-based TWH Architects showed that despite stagnant county population projections over the next 10 to 20 years, Grundy's jail will need 95 to 100 beds by 2020.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...