It wasn’t an upset on Monday night when the county Board of Commissioners, faced basically with no other option, voted unanimously to approve $1.1 million so that a new roof could be placed atop the county jail to keep the rain from soaking the inmates. But there were plenty of readers of our coverage of that action that were upset, knowing that they will have to dig even dipper into their pockets.
Essentially, the county is being forced to spend $1.1 million on a two- or three-year Band-Aid that will keep the Robeson County Detention Center habitable until the county can figure out how to build a new jail, which has been estimated to cost as much as $44 million and will only get more expensive the longer that breaking the ground is delayed. The shame is when the old jail is abandoned, it will have a nice new roof but otherwise be of little value to the county as it will not service other needs.
That $44 million or so for a new jail is a bigger problem than a leaky roof because the county’s options on how to find that money are limited, and it’s almost certain that a major property tax increase that will be with us for decades is around the bend. Our prediction is that will be delayed at least until after the May 2016 when this county’s residents will vote next on who sits on the county Board of Commissioners.
That assumes, however, that a mandate from the state doesn’t come before then to start constructing a new jail.
Don’t shake your fist at the current county Board of Commissioners, which has inherited this mess. We are in this fix because 25 years ago the county built a jail that was advertised as one that could be easily modified to meet a growing population of prisoners. It turns out that wasn’t the case — and the existing structure simply is no match for the county’s population and high crime rate.
The $1.1 million, which amounts to about 2 cents on the county’s 77-cent property tax rate, among the highest in the state, will come from the county’s reserves. So the pain won’t be immediate.
But the county strives to maintain a reserve fund of approximately $24 million, the equivalent of about 16 percent of the General Fund, doing so in order to protect its bond rating. The state requires a more modest reserve fund of about 8 percent of the General Fund.
So when dollars are plucked from the reserve fund, the county will rebuild that fund, and that has to be done through property taxes. It is the high price that we continue to pay as residents of this county because crime here is so out of control.