Members of the Jefferson County Quorum Court took the correct approach this past week to look at other options before spending $1.7 million to begin construction of a new building to house the sheriff's department offices.

Members of the Jefferson County Quorum Court took the correct approach this past week to look at other options before spending $1.7 million to begin construction of a new building to house the sheriff’s department offices.

The stance of the county’s legislative body should not be considered a slap at Sheriff Gerald Robinson or architect Richard Taylor of the Nelson Architectural Group, who designed the proposed building.

As noted by Dr. Herman Ginger, chairman of the court’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee, the justices of the peace have a responsibility to “do due diligence and be good stewards of the county’s money.” Anything else would be a violation of their oath of office.

Ginger agreed the structures housing the department’s Criminal Investigation Division and uniformed Patrol Division in the 100 block of Main Street are failing structurally, filled with mold and mildew, and pose a health hazard to employees.

Department employees have a right to expect a safe work environment without being concerned about the health hazards posed by mold and mildew. Departmental employees face more than enough hazards carrying out their duties without adding to their concerns.

Robinson, who has established a record of being proactive, noted the condition of the existing offices “restrains us from doing our jobs.” When he talks, we don’t worry because of his record for being candid.

The sheriff reminded justices that when he was assigned to the CID, he had had ceiling tiles fall on his desk, adding the old structures “are falling in.” He emphasized the request for new offices was not an item on a wish list, but a realistic need for safe working conditions for department personnel.

And, noted Robinson, “It would be more convenient for the public to have everything in one place, plus the building and facilities would be up to speed to use the technology we currently have.”

Taylor said the proposed two-story building would be located on the east side of the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center, facing Convention Center Drive.

Because of monetary constraints, the structure would not all be completed at the same time, with the CID offices targeted to be the first to move to the new facility. Other offices would be added as funds become available, with the overall project – construction, parking and site management – estimated to cost $3.14 million over 15-16 months.

Preliminary planning calls for funding the first phase with $1 million from the Detention Facilities Reserve Fund, $600,000 from Detention Facilities M&O (maintenance and operations), and $100,000 from the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund.

While there is “ample money” in the individual county funds, County Judge Mike Holcomb sought direction from the court’s Public Safety Committee.

Current plans call for building the departmental offices in three phases, or pay-as-you-go. However, the justices who saw a “need (to) investigate possible alternatives” and sought “a second option” may have the right idea despite the obvious needs voiced by Robinson.

A number of Southeast Arkansas county judges who are working on budget drafts for the coming year have indicated they have reason to believe revenues will be very tight in 2012.

The question comes down to money: $1.7 million available now vs. $3.14 million available sometime in the future.

Scaling back the plans is one alternative. Looking at all the options, including building in phases, is one possibility. And, as Justice of the Peace Edward Spears noted, “the cost of not doing it might outweigh the cost of doing it.”

Because of the difficult decisions facing the court, justices ended up deciding to “explore all necessary avenues.” That was probably the best option available.

Now Holcomb and Robinson can sharpen their pencils and come back to the committee in December with a list of available options.