Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis (center) is looking out for High Point's detention needs.
A discussion about Guilford County’s law enforcement budget in High Point yesterday turned into a parochial tussle over detention facilities. Specifically, County Manager Brenda Jones Fox’s proposal to shut down the prison farm set off the debate.
Commissioner Kirk Perkins, who represents the northeastern corner of the county in the vicinity of the farm, declared himself against the closure. At-large Commissioner Paul Gibson said at this time he would probably vote to keep the farm open. Commissioner Billy Yow, who represents the southeast corner of the county said he agrees with Perkins.
“I agree with Kirk that it’s the wrong time to close the prison farm,” Yow said, adding that the market is not favorable for selling real estate and when the time comes the property will be more marketable if it’s maintained as a working farm.”
Staking out the other side, Commissioner Bruce Davis said, “Today, I would vote to close the prison farm,” adding that using ankle bracelets and GPS tracking devices would save the county money because inmates can be monitored and supervised without paying for their housing and upkeep.
Maj. Debbie Montgomery, who heads the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office’s court services bureau, said the decision of whether inmates are sentenced to monitored supervision is up to judges and the sheriff’s office doesn’t have control over that.
Davis, whose district includes parts of High Point, disclosed that part of his concern is the county’s plan to decommission the High Point jail as a facility to house inmates and instead use it solely as an intake center. Montgomery said the contractor anticipates that the new jail in downtown Greensboro will be completed by the end of the year and the sheriff’s office expects to begin housing inmates there next March. The beds in the old Greensboro jail would eventually be contracted out to house federal inmates.
“If you’re going to have a jail in Greensboro, you got to have one in High Point,” Davis said.
Montgomery said the new jail will require a detention staff of 312, and the old jail in Greensboro will need 80 employees once it’s reoccupied by contract. Adding full staffing at the High Point and full staffing at the farm, the county’s detention network would require 506 employees.
“See, we’re creating jobs,” Yow said with a hint of irony.
In a budget year when increase in debt service, the cost of the new jail, withheld lottery funds and other state funding reductions have prompted Fox to recommend a tax increase the county is planning to spend more on law enforcement while cutting spending on public health and social services.
Davis assailed a report he said had been published by an unidentified media outlet that the prison farm generates roughly $1 million a year for the county.
Budget Director Michael Halford said after the meeting that operation of the farm costs the county a little more than $4 million. When revenue from goods and services and from roadside litter pickup by inmates is subtracted, the farm’s net cost is about $3.6 million, he added.
Montgomery and her colleagues at the sheriff’s office see a clear benefit to keeping the farm open.
“From our standpoint we think there is a benefit to the community,” Montgomery said. “You can’t put a dollar amount on the education al experience that inmates gain when they reintegrate into the community – the culinary, woodworking and customer service skills…. My staff wants to keep the prison farm open, and not just because they like working there.”
During the briefing, commissioners also elected to take no action on an invitation to join the new Piedmont Triad Council of Governments, which is scheduled to come into existence on July 1 as a merger of the old Piedmont Triad Council of Governments and the Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments. Guilford is the only county that has not signed on.
The merger would bring Guilford and Forsyth – the Triad’s two most populous counties – into the same regional network. Councils of government across the state provide technical assistance and regional planning services to local governments. As such, their services are more in demand by smaller governments. The commissioners are balking at a dues and voting structure that they believe places Guilford at a disadvantage as the regions most populous county. Their counterparts on the Greensboro City Council have expressed similar concerns.
Chairman Skip Alston said he would like to see the council of government bring back a resolution of intent pledging to implement a new dues structure. Yow said that considering the new council of government can’t take any action until the merger takes place, Guilford County should only ask for a resolution of intent to address concerns over dues and voting power. Alston, in turn, suggested that the new council of government be assembled, revise the dues structure and then invite Guilford County in.