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  • Writer's pictureLeRoy Cossette


On February 26, 2024, the Haywood County Board of Commissioner held a special session to discuss the proposed detention center expansion project. Key staff and members of the design and construction team, as well as Sheriff Bill Wilke and Chief Deputy Matthew Trantham were in attendance to provide an overview of current jail operations and future needs.


The Commissioners requested clarity on the fluctuations in estimates for the project. County Manager Morehead explained that initial estimates were influenced by a cost estimator's projection of a $21.5 million project, leading to a bid not to exceed $23.5 million. He stated that currently the project is at approximately $830 per square foot.


Rehabilitating the old annex to mitigate costs and address current issues was suggested as a potential cost savings by Board members. It was explained that the annex is unsafe and unsecure and would need to be levelled to make the square footage available.


Mr. Morehead stated that the 155 beds are intended to meet the County’s needs for 25 years.  Sheriff Willke stated that the expansion would provide ten isolation cells, with an expandable pod that could also be utilized for isolation cells if needed, which provides far more flexibility than the current facility.


The Commissioners expressed support for law enforcement while emphasizing their need for clarity behind the costs. Chairman Ensley stated that projects consistently exceed initial estimates by 20-30% due to rising costs of materials. He highlighted the risks of delaying the project, including increased costs and potential lawsuits. He reiterated the importance of being proactive rather than seeking temporary solutions.


Commissioner Ramey expressed ongoing concern about whether current capacity needs will endure, while Commissioner Long noted that the current and past two Sheriffs recommended the expansion. Commissioner Best expressed discomfort with raising taxes but acknowledged the county's ability to afford the project.


The Commissioners will be proceeding with their plans to build the new jail. Of importance to the residents of Haywood County is their plan to raise all property taxes 2% next year and reassess all property by 62% in 2026 to help cover the costs.


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