The Hamblen County Commission nearly put a hold on building a new jail Thursday night, but a bid to slow down the process failed in a tie vote.
The commission voted 6-6 to place a 60-day moratorium on the jail project, but because it was a tie, the resolution failed.
The vote came as commissioners were set to vote on moving into the next phase of construction. Commissioner Bobby Haun said that he had heard from constituents in his district and he heard their message.
“I’m hearing a lot of people say slow down,” he said.
Haun said he knew Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnagin had talked previously about a “wagon wheel design” for a jail that the sheriff has said in the past would cost taxpayers less money.
“I’d like to see a presentation on the design you’re talking about,” Haun said.
Haun said he has heard a lot of misinformation in the public about the project and he wanted to weigh all of his options.
Jarnagin, though, declined to give a presentation.
“With all due respect, that wagon wheel has been beat to death and I just backed down,” he said. “My time is too valuable to waste.”
Commissioner Chris Cutshaw asked Jarnagin how long it would take him to come up with a proposal.
Jarnagin responded that there would be less employees needed for the design and that there would be money wasted building a three-story jail instead of being able to expand outward on a smaller jail.
As commissioners asked him to give a more detailed presentation, Jarnagin said they had not listened to him in the past.
“My opinions, anything else I have done, has fallen on deaf ears,” Jarnagin said. “I don’t have any problem with anyone in here. I don’t mean to sound hostile. But, my time is too valuable to waste if you’re not going to listen to it.”
Jarnagin said the current plans for the jail to be built next to the current justice center would mean it would be landlocked. He said he preferred a jail to be built on land adjacent to U.S. Highway 25E that the commission had previously examined.
Commissioners said there are pros and cons with that property, though, because it would require infrastructure like water, sewage and electric to be placed into the area, while the current plan already has all of that available.
Commissioners also said there were concerns about law enforcement agencies traveling to the property and the possibility of not being able to place a traffic light on U.S. Highway 25E.
The current jail plan is also underway with the county already buying land around the justice center and demolishing homes. The county has hired an architect as well and a design for a new jail was unveiled last week.
“I have said this over and over, people listen to me, we can’t staff your jail if you build it,” Jarnagin said.
He said he did not think the county would be able to hire enough people to staff the new jail, which he said he believes it may take up to 120 people to staff.
The county plans to borrow up to $75 million for the project, but $10 million of that money is being used for renovations at Morristown-Hamblen High School West.
Commissioner Wayne NeSmith made a motion to put the project on hold for 60 days and Commissioner Taylor Ward seconded the motion.
Cutshaw then asked if they did approve a moratorium what would happen after that.
“If we are going to do that, what do we do?” he asked. “Are we going to be sitting around waiting or are we going to get our proposal? I want to hear an objective.”
“That’s a good point,” said County Chairman Howard Shipley.
Jarnagin said once more he had brought up his concerns and objections months ago, but “nobody listened.”
Shipley said he represents the district where the proposed U.S. Highway 25E location and his constituents had told him they did not want the jail in their backyard.
“We can’t look back at what happened before,” said County Commissioner Eileen Arnwine. “We have to move forward.”
The vote failed because of a lack of majority.
Voting in favor for the moratorium were NeSmith, Cutshaw, Haun, Ward, Jeff Akard and Thomas Doty.
The commission then voted 9-3 to begin the next phase of the construction, allowing Moseley Architects, the North-Carolina based firm, to draw designs for future bidding.
The architects have said bidding on construction could possibly occur by October and construction of the new jail could start early next spring.
The commission also voted 9-3 to put out proposals to find a project manager for the project and to also begin architectural designs on the Hale property, across from the Hamblen County Courthouse.
The Hamblen County Commission also voted 9-3 to surplus a dump truck hit by a train last fall. NeSmith said he thought the truck could possibly be restored for about $44,000.
Barry Poole, road superintendent, said it is hard to gauge how much damage has been done on the vehicle.
“It could end up being a money pit,” he said. “We could end up spending a lot of money down the road.”