DURANT -- More funding is now available for a troubled local jail. On Tuesday Bryan County voters passed a sales tax extension. Now county leaders are deciding how best to use that money.
County leaders restructured the sales tax so one third goes to the sheriff's office, one third to roads and bridges, and the remainder to the jail and to pay off loans. They hope the plan helps best prepare the county for the future.
After a year of nine escapes and incurring thousands of dollars of debt, the Bryan County Jail should finally see some relief. A quarter-cent sales tax extension would provide more funding and the possibility of new leadership at the jail.
More than half of the funding for the sheriff’s office comes from the sales tax, Sheriff Bill Sturch said. If the extension had not passed he would have had to cut staff.
Since the extension passed, county leaders are ready to dissolve the jail trust authority and give control of the jail back to the sheriff's office.
Jon Kidman, the current jail administrator, worked in the same position when the sheriff ran the jail. The Trust Authority took over in 2004.
"With the sheriff was running the jail, I've visited with him many times, he knows far more about this jail than I do or anyone else in this county does," said Monty Montgomery, county commissioner, and chairman of the trust authority.
County leaders are now working on paying back a $500,000 dollar loan for jail improvements. They’ll use the tax earnings to make monthly payments to the bank of $12,000 dollars.
“Very big burden off of our shoulders,” Montgomery said. “We don't have to worry about the big payments that were being made before. I haven't visited with the banks since yesterday when the tax passed but I'm sure they're very pleased because even though it may take a little longer for them to get their money, they know it's coming."
The jail needs improvements, like new locks in individual cells, Sturch says. The inmates in larger holding areas, but currently aren’t limited to a single cell. He would like to see close the auxiliary jail, but would have to reduce the number of inmates. Currently the jail runs about 90 people, but would ideally handle 60. Eventually the sheriff would like to build a new jail to in anticipation of more growth in Bryan County.
County leaders waited for the tax election before creating a budget for next year. Now they’re deciding how to specifically allocate the money.