Loudon County’s sheriff pushes for expanded jail, law enforcement center


By Hugh G. Willett

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Loudon County Sheriff’s Office and Loudon County Commission are discussing a major expansion of the county’s jail and law enforcement training facilities as part of a long-range capital improvement plan.

The expansion, which could cost $15 million, might be the largest item on the plan now under discussion by the commission. The second phase of a school building program also would be on the plan.

In a meeting Monday with the commission’s capital projects committee, Sheriff Tim Guider outlined his goals for the jail expansion. Additional upgrades might include a firing range and a driving course.

According to Guider, the Loudon County jail is over capacity.

“We’re 50 to 60 inmates over capacity all the time,” he said.

A decision on how much to expand the jail would be made after input from other stakeholders in the judicial system, including the U.S. Marshals Service.

Loudon is not alone in the need for more jail space. In September, Anderson County approved $14.7 million in bonds to add capacity to its detention facilities.

The current Loudon County justice center was built in 1975. Two additions, one in 1991 and another in 2004, have been unable to keep pace with the increase in prisoners, the sheriff said.

“We’re still in the early stages,” Guider said. “This will take a couple of years of planning.”

Long-terms plans might even include replacing the entire justice center, Guider said. Building on to the current center might be “spending good money after bad,” he said.

Guider said the Sheriff’s Office has been using training facilities — including a firing range and driving course — that belong to neighboring Blount County, which has been very obliging.

Guider told the planning committee: “The training is mandated by the state. It’s time we took care of ourselves.”

Loudon County could make its local training facilities available to other law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Loudon and Lenoir City police departments. The three municipalities might be able to share costs on some of the training facilities. Fire and ambulance drivers might also use the driving course, he said.

In July, the County Commission passed a 20-cent tax increase to fund the first phase of a $43 million school building program. At the time, some commissioners estimated the property tax increase could support payments on about $8 million more in long-term debt.

According to Commissioner Don Miller, it’s not yet clear how the county will pay for the jail expansion, the second phase of the school building program or other items. Another tax increase might be necessary within a few years, depending on the economy.

Another issue that could affect the county’s ability to borrow is the structure of the loans. Longer-term loans, such as 25 years, would lower the payments and allow the county to borrow more in the near future, he said.

Hugh Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.