BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS: Jail feasibility study approved

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BAKERSVILLE – A feasibility study for a new jail and law enforcement center in Mitchell County will soon be underway. 

The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Monday, Feb. 3, unanimously approved a decision to allow Interim County Manager Charles Vines to initiate the study. 

Mitchell County Sheriff Donald Street addressed the commissioners and spoke about the need for new facilities, especially a jail and an updated sheriff’s office. 

Street said the number of inmates in Mitchell County is not the biggest issue. Transporting inmates into the county for court appearances, however, is a massive strain on his resources and presents a myriad of safety issues.

Street said on some days, his department transports nearly two dozen inmates into the county for court appearances. There are two holding cells currently in place, but since the inmates are typically a mix of men and women, safety concerns abound.

“The holding cells work for now, but it’s very unsafe up there for us,” Street said.

Street added his staff has to assist with transport, which means less time for them to be patrolling the county. Frequently, Mitchell County has to pay for transport aid from neighboring sheriff’s departments. 

“Yancey County has to assist us a lot, and they get paid for it,” Street said. “It’s a madhouse up there some days. There are some real issues up there.”

Street said the need for a jail is pressing, but added his department could also use a new office. He said the current office has a basic, outdated buzz-in entry system, and inside, the small quarters and lack of private offices make interviews and other daily operations difficult. 

Street said for some important interviews that need to be recorded, his deputies have to conduct interviews at the Spruce Pine Police Department.

“We have no privacy in our office,” Street said. “The sheriff’s office needs to be able to do all the jobs we need to do in our office. Something has to give in our office. It has to be fixed.”

Commissioners Danny Burleson and Jeff Harding agreed with Street’s assessment of the facilities and asked their fellow commissioners what the next step would be. 

“What you’re asking for is long overdue,” Harding said. “It’s an embarrassment to this county that we have asked your people to work in those conditions.”

Street thanked Harding for his cooperation and added hypothetical new facilities could “cut out some of the frills” while still getting the job done. 

Board chair Jacob Willis said the county now needs to establish what the new facilities would cost and where they would be built. 

“We need to task someone with telling us exactly what the cost is going to be,” Willis said. “We need to have a plan to do it all on one site, preferably close to the courthouse.”

Vines said when the county looked into building a new jail in the mid-2000s, the plan was to build a two-story building next to the courthouse with a sheriff’s office on the second story and a jail on the lower level.

Vines added a feasibility study will reveal exact costs and other specific details and will give the county an idea of what other counties in the state have done with their jail projects in recent years. 

Vines will begin working closely with Street and could potentially plan a construction project. 

Street thanked the commissioners for moving the project forward. 

Burleson echoed Harding in saying the feasibility study is overdue. 

“They’ve got to get out of that office over there,” Burleson said. “That’s a priority. We have to get them somewhere they feel safer. They have to have a place to do what they need to do.”