By Lisa Kopochinski
TUPELO, Miss.— Following a number of failed attempts to renovate the Lee County Jail in Mississippi, county leaders are again exploring options to overhaul the jail.
According to the Daily Journal, Lee County Board of Supervisors Tommie Lee Ivy toured the jail in late January to learn the facility’s needs.
“I’m not going to be specific, but I saw needs there,” Ivy said. “But I’m not an architect.”
Prior to moving forward, Ivy believes the board should hire an independent consultant who is familiar with architecture to advise county politicians about the jail.
“We only want (a consultant) to tell us what we need. It’s not what we want, but what it is we need,” he said in a statement.
To remove any concerns about conflicts of interest, he added that he would prefer a consultant who isn’t from the area.
The cost of this potential renovation project remains one of the main concerns. County politicians would more than likely fund this effort by using a bond issue, which means taxes would probably increase.
“The dollar tag figure is what bothers me because we’re laying it on the taxpayers,” Ivy told local media.
The debate among county leaders remains whether to renovate the facility or build a new jail, and which choice would be more expensive.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said in a statement that he has made his “position on the need for a new facility in the past and that has not changed.”
He told television station WCBI in late January that he thought it was a slap in the face to county residents for a supervisor to come and tour the prison after having many discussions about the jail in the past.
“We’ve been looking at this for five years; you’ve paid a consultant at least $20,000, toured other jails, drew up plans of what we need and now you think it’s time to come down here and look at the jail is exactly why we’re in the shape that we’re in,” Johnson said in the interview.
Ivy commented that it is premature to discuss what type of repair is needed to the jail before a consultant is hired, but did say he wants to be fair to the county’s taxpayers by only adopting an option that’s affordable.
“I’ve been very conservative with raising taxes,” Ivy said. “And a lot of people still can’t pay their taxes. That’s why I want us to go with just what we need and not what we want.”