By ZOË WATKINS
There’s a lot going on in the county budget for this fiscal year 2023 to 2024.
Chiefly, there are three projects to be on the look for: a new juvenile detention center, a new addition to The Liberty School, and a new surplus storage facility.
At the last Commission meeting in September, the commission voted to go through to the final phase before boots-on-the-ground construction, which includes moving on to designs and their estimated costs.
The surplus building is the smallest of the projects. Mayor Graham said they plan to build a pole-barn-type structure to house county surplus property. It is currently housed on Lane Parkway.
The juvenile center and the Liberty School are in the ballpark of costing around $5 million each. But cost-control is big and time is driving it all.
“Prices do change, and we tried to make a provision that gives us just a little bit of wiggle room if we have to. Because we learned through Covid that everything is time sensitive and everything is going up in value regular now, constantly,” said County mayor Chad Graham. “But I’m confident we are going to turn out those projects very close to what I think we all envisioned.”
For example, if Cartwright Elementary on Fairfield Pike had been built four years earlier, it was estimated to have cost $31 million. Today, it’s a $42 million school.
For the juvenile detention building, the county has decided to build a new facility that will be located at the Bedford County Judicial Complex on Northcreek Drive off of U.S. 231. The current building is located on the corner of North Spring Street and Lane Parkway.
“The facility is way past its lifespan. That building had actually been used as commercial space before the sheriff’s office even went into it. So it wasn’t a building that was built for public safety or government use even in the first place. They retrofitted it,” said Graham.
“Because the county got into the juvenile detention business many years ago. It is my opinion and my position that we should stay in the business,” he added. “We can ideally assure that our kids will be right here, close to home.”
Graham said the goal of juvenile detention is to “turn the child around.” Often, sending kids to out of county detention systems, negatively influences them.
“We want the environment to be right for an opportunity for correction and not learning other bad behaviors. And that can happen if you’re sent off to other, big facilities,” said Graham. In this case, Bedford County juveniles would have to be sent to Jackson (Rutherford County said they cannot take any other juvenile from outside their county, according to Graham).
“We’re not full with just Bedford yet, but we will get there. Because we’re already in the business and we had a way to do it without a tax increase, I certainly felt like we should invest in those youth and see if we can’t get them on the right track. In my view, that would be money well spent.”
The “old jail” (not the 1860s historic jail), which sits on the juvenile detention grounds, has already been approved to be torn down. According to Graham, the only reason why it hasn’t been torn down is because it is housing some IT equipment for the county.
Also focusing on youth, this expansion at Liberty School will also aid in the county’s goal of getting kids out of portables.
“What a tremendous feat because we went for years, some of these portables are 20 years old. Portables are meant for short-term, not long-term, but they got used that way,” said Graham. “To close the gap on that in five years really shows that if everybody puts their emphasis in the same direction—and that took the school board, that took the county mayor’s office, that took the commission— we can move the needle.”
Graham added, “I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of priority. It’s a matter where do you have flow of funds that can go ahead and let you address some of the specifics things.
“We’ve got to eat this elephant one bite at a time. We’re very aware there are needs beyond what we’ve been able to address for sure.”
There is one vote left on these projects and that’s the vote to borrow funds, which will be made in a subsequent commission meeting.
“But we had already anticipated within our budgeting structure and model the kind of monies that would need to be borrowed in totality and what the payments on those would be and we have revenue stream within the budget that would support that without a tax increase and so we’re excited about that and we believe that can get all three of those projects,” said Graham.