Honorable Phil Miller
6840 West Church Street
Douglasville, Georgia 30134
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the Mayor and Councils of the cities of Austell, Douglasville, and Villa Rica are presenting a referendum to the Public on September 18th requesting a one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) for a six-year period to begin January 1st, 2008, to fund capital improvement projects that were determined after a series of meetings during which the Public told the Commissioners what it wanted the SPLOST monies to be used for, should the referendum be approved. The four Public input meetings were held April 17th and 26th, and May 3rd and 17th.
Monies from the SPLOST will be utilized by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, and the Cities of Austell, Douglasville, and Villa Rica for projects determined by each governing body. It is anticipated that approximately $166 million will be raised over the six-year period for capital projects. This $166 million is estimated using a two percent growth rate in the Douglas County economy, a conservative estimate since the growth rate has been approximately six percent since the year 2000. However, since economic trends are, at best, a gaze into the crystal ball, caution and conservatism are being exercised. If adopted by Douglas County citizens, the six-year SPLOST will be implemented January 1, 2008, and will expire December 31, 2013.
Monies collected from the SPLOST must be used by the respective governments for identified and generalized capital improvement projects, i.e., construction, equipment, project management, bond costs, engineering directly associated with construction projects and equipment purchases. SPLOST funds may not be used to pay salaries or operational expenses of government.
New Law Enforcement Center and Jail
The major emphasis of the SPLOST referendum is the design and construction of a new law enforcement center, including a 1500-bed jail, Sheriff’s Department administrative offices, on-site Courtroom, and support services. Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller stated that the current jail was designed to hold one person per cell by Federal Court order, and that the Sheriff’s Office was later able to have the Court order amended to allow two persons per cell. At present, four inmates are being housed in each cell. The SPLOST initiative is to meet the need for a new law enforcement center, including jail, without having a Federal Court Order and Federal Court supervision of the project.
The new law enforcement center, including the jail, qualifies as a Tier 1 project under Georgia law, which means that the project benefits all of Douglas County regardless of city limits, and its funding is prioritized as SPLOST funds come in. The new law enforcement center will cost an estimated $120 million total, of which $83 million will be funded through the proposed SPLOST initiative. The new law enforcement center will be financed via a 12-year bond issue. The costs of the bond issue are included in the total project cost of $120 million. The remaining costs of the law enforcement center project after the SPLOST will hopefully be able to be paid from general property tax revenues since the tax digest will most likely continue to grow over the next six years.
The law enforcement center will not be constructed on the current jail site on West Church Street. It is proposed to be constructed on a 36-acre site adjacent to the Douglas County Courthouse now occupied by Flagview Mobile Home Park off Fairburn Road, and property procurement negotiations are presently underway. The jail will be financed through a bond issue so that design and construction could immediately begin once the SPLOST referendum is decided. If the SPLOST referendum is not approved, alternate financing means will be necessary.
Sheriff Miller recently entered into an agreement with Carroll and Paulding Counties to accept and house a limited number of maximum security (7) and female (15) inmates, respectively, because the current Douglas County jail cannot segregate these categories of prisoners within the existing structure as required by law (maximum security, medium security, minimum security, women, men, trustee, etc.). Over the past few months, complete wings of the jail have had to be placed on lockdown due to incidents inside certain jail areas, and part of the problem causing this unrest is the overcrowded conditions. The current jail has capacity for about 800 bunks, 20 of which are in medical, and the average jail population in June 2007 was 712 inmates. However, 16 inmates are incarcerated on murder charges and must be jailed alone, and over half of those are death penalty cases. The jail inmate population has grown from an average daily population in January 2007 of 603 to the June 2007 population of 712, and the trend continues. The trustee area can only be used for trustees and pre-trustees only, and minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates must all be housed in different areas of the jail.
Based on the configuration of beds per category, the current jail should be housing only about 480 prisoners. Douglas County has not housed inmates from the State of Georgia or other jurisdictions since 1996 except in emergency situations, and does not anticipate housing any in the new facility.
The new facility on the 36-acre site will allow the law enforcement center to be expanded, as needed in the future, to 2500 beds.
When the new law enforcement center is completed, the current jail facility/property will be placed for sale. The current Blake Gammill Sheriff’s Office Administration Building will be utilized by Douglas County, most likely for a new Fire Department headquarters, and Department of Transportation offices after some modifications to the building interior.