Johnston County back at square one for new detention center site

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) -- Johnston County is headed back to the drawing board for a new detention center to address jail overcrowding.

The current jail is designed to hold 191 inmates, but there were 259 inside Monday morning. Another 56 inmates are in jails in Wayne, Harnett, and Sampson counties.

Johnston County pays a daily fee for each inmate housed outside the county, and County Manager Rick Hester said those fees will likely total $1 million this year.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 in November to buy farmland near Smithfield Middle School and Smithfield-Selma Senior High School. The plan was to build a new jail there, but there was substantial opposition from residents in the area as well as questions from the Selma and Smithfield councils.

The cut-off date for the purchase option was July 31, and the buyer and seller did not complete the deal.

"It's expired. I don't see that coming back," Hester said.

"The board definitely listened, got a lot of feedback about that. The county nor the landowner ever filed a zoning petition with the town of Smithfield. And so we're back at a starting point again and looking forward to making the best decision."

The announcement at Monday's commission meeting took away Tucker Twisdale's tension that there would be a jail in her backyard.

"I am very relieved the option has run out. I also am very relieved that the county commissioners are willing to look elsewhere," Twisdale said, though she still has some concerns the Buffalo Road site could be reconsidered.

"I always remember never take anything 100 percent until it's a done deal," she added.

Architects presented three designs for new jails as part of public safety complexes.

Two are for locations away from downtown Smithfield, where the jail is currently part of the courthouse. A smaller version has an estimated cost of about $30 million while a larger version would run $36 million.

The other possible solution presents a parallel problem of parking overcrowding, as a lot currently used by courthouse visitors would become the foundation for the new jail. A new building there would cost about $34

A new building there would cost about $34 million, but would require construction of a parking deck with an estimated price tag of $7 million. The $41 million total would be higher if the county opted for a design which allows for further expansion.

"The difference in cost of staying downtown versus off-site would likely be about $5 million minimum," Hester said.

The Board of Commissioners said Monday that they plan on having a public hearing which will probably be on the first Monday of September.

"That is the best news that I think could possibly happen for the citizens of Johnston County, because this way the public is being informed of what the possibilities are, what the options are, and they have some input," Twisdale said.

"If the county commissioners are going to be spending taxpayers money, then the public needs to have input into it."

Hester said if a decision is made this fall, it would likely take four years for completion.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners have scheduled a special public meeting on Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Commissioners Meeting Room of the Johnston County Courthouse located at 207 E. Johnston St. in order to receive public comment and input on the proposed safety center, according to press release.

The public may get an information packet on the options for a public safety center in the Johnston County Manager's Office which is located in the Johnston County Courthouse, 207 E. Johnston St. in Smithfield room B-206, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday You can also download from the Johnston County's website at: (see Public Notices).

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