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COUNTY COMMISSION: County jail problems continue

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Sheriff Ben Stewart brought up safety concerns at the courthouse. According to Stewart, there currently is no holding facility at the courthouse for inmates. Some of these safety issues came to light recently when a Public Defender
was actually attacked by an inmate.

During the regular meeting of the Madison County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, Nov. 29, Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart addressed the commissioners about on-going problems at the county jail. According to Stewart, the problems seem to stem from the fact that a large number of inmates in the jail are merely waiting on the court system. Many of the inmates in the county jail are either awaiting trial or awaiting sentencing. Often, that wait is months long. During that time, it is the responsibility of the county, specifically the Madison County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), to care for those inmates. Stewart told the commissioners of one inmate who had been in the county jail for 588 days before he was finally sentenced to 10 years in the state prison system on drug charges. Before being sentenced, this same inmate had a medical episode and had to be transported to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Since there is no insurance for such situations, medical costs such as this fall directly onto the shoulders of the local jail and the MCSO.

The backlog of inmates awaiting either trial or sentencing is “creating a quagmire,” according to Stewart. “Right now we have 175 people on the felony docket,” said Stewart. The problem could get much worse if a proposed bill (SB 484) passes in the legislature during next year's session. This bill would allow an inmate to be sentenced to two years in the county jail, as opposed to the current one-year limit. Doing this, would in effect, transfer costs from the state Department of Corrections to the individual county jails. This could be a hard blow to cash-strapped rural counties such as Madison County.

Stewart also brought up safety concerns at the courthouse. According to Stewart, there currently is no holding facility at the courthouse for inmates. Some of these safety issues came to light recently when a Public Defender was actually attacked by an inmate.

The Commissioners approved the consent agenda, which consisted of a proclamation declaring Nov. 15 – 22 as National Farm-City Week. Also on the consent agenda was the re-appointment of Ed Meggs and Rick Davis to the Madison County Development Council.

The Commissioners took the opportunity to honor a couple of Madison County citizens for their service to the community. First Will B “Jargo” Clark was honored with a proclamation that recognized and commended the work Clark has done in the community over his long life. Clark was Vice-President of the Van H. Priest Company for many years. Clark was also instrumental in the formation of the local Madison Rotary Club. Clark has also been a long-time supporter of the Southern Scholarship Foundation, which helps provide housing for deserving university students throughout the state. Clark has also been a long-time member of the First Baptist Church in Madison. The recognition came just days ahead of Clark's 100th birthday, which was on Monday, Dec. 4.

The Commissioners also recognized and commended the work of Cherry Lake Volunteer Fireman, John Danny McDonald, Jr. McDonald was a Volunteer Fireman with the Cherry Lake Volunteer Fire Department for over 47 years. McDonald was bestowed with the honorary title of “Lifelong Station Chief.”

The Commissioners heard an update from Ann Vickers from Certified Service Center. Vickers joined the meeting via telephone. Vickers informed the Commissioners that she was still working on obtaining financing for the service center. Vickers has applied for a home equity line of credit from Bank of America, but it could be after the new year before Vickers has final approval. Commissioner Davis questioned whether it might be better for Vickers to simply buy the land from the county and then proceed with the project. Vickers had been given the land on which to build the service center, which would include a NAPA parts store and a vehicle rental facility, in addition to a diesel repair shop. In exchange for the land, Vickers promised the service center would employ 20 full-time equivalent employees. There was some question as to whether this meant 20 new jobs or a total of 20 jobs. Without the contract immediately available, none of the Commissioners could be certain. Vickers asked for an extension until the end of March, 2018 to begin construction. Vickers said she expects to be able to break ground on the facility by Sunday, April 1, 2018. “I would be willing to grant the extension, simply to keep things moving,” said Davis. The Commissioners voted to grant the extension.

The Commissioners heard from Brian Bish about the New Home Volunteer Fire Department. The New Home Volunteer Fire Department was requesting a loan of $53,052.35 in order to purchase a new fire truck. These funds would come from reserve funds and would be paid back from the department's operating funds at a minimum rate of $5,000 per year.

The appointment of Princess Roebuck to the Madison County Tourist Development Council was passed.

Dr. Barbara Reddick and Robert Kennedy made a presentation about Holistic Plan of Care, Inc. Holistic Plan of Care provides services such as substance abuse counseling, out-patient services and substance education, community prevention programs, anger management classes, grief and loss counseling and more. They currently have an office in Monticello, and they have expressed an interest in opening an office in Greenville. Reddick and Kennedy were present to ask the Commissioners for any assistance they can give. Commissioner Ronnie Moore (whose district includes Greenville) commended Reddick and Kennedy for the work they are doing, and he pledged to help in any way he can.

The next meeting of the Board of Madison County Commissioners will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 9 a.m., in the Commission Meeting Room, located at 229 SW Pinckney St., in Madison.

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