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Officials delay decision on jail in Clinton

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

CLINTON - Officials will use the next two months to research options before deciding the fate of the Hickman County Detention Center.

Just under 100 people crowded into the Hickman County Courthouse on Monday night to hear the Fiscal Court discuss the potential closure of the jail and relocation of dispatch services. Because of a steady decline in state inmates, the jail - which was built to hold 80 - is less than half full. Since 2001, the county has transferred more than $3.34 million from its general fund into the jail fund.

Next year, county officials expect to spend $696,111 on it.

"Anyone who thinks I am giving you numbers because I want to close the jail, you're wrong," Judge-Executive Greg Pruitt told the crowd. "We want it to stay open. We feel even stronger about keeping dispatch in this county. But it is our job to look at the numbers and see if we can still operate this way next year."

The Fiscal Court originally thought a decision would have to be made at Monday's meeting because state statute mandates that the salary for the jailer position be in place by the first Monday in May. If the jail closes, the jailer's salary could be as low as $25,000. If it stays open, that number could rise to about $66,000. Pruitt said he consulted the Kentucky Association of Counties' legal department and found that the county could adopt both pay rates at the same time in order to prolong the decision on the jail and dispatch.

While the decision is now slated for sometime in June, Pruitt showed the public the three major options of the Fiscal Court. The first leaves the jail open and keeps dispatch inside it, which is estimated to cost the county $696,000 for 2014-15. The second option shuts the jail, but leaves dispatch inside the facility at a price of about $440,000. A third option, which shuts down both and farms out dispatch to another facility, would cost $344,000, Pruitt said.

"Budgeting is a process, and we have said  that all along," Magistrate Tommy Roberts said. "None of us want to close the jail, but we have to go through this and see where we stand at the end. We have to make sure Hickman County is financially sound."

The jail employs 19 people, including five dispatchers. Emergency responders, including police, fire and ambulance services, have all openly opposed moving dispatch, citing the potential for miscommunications during emergency situations. Pruitt said he has explored options with the Kentucky State Police, Fulton County and Carlisle County.

"They're going to look after their own before they look out for us," dispatcher Terri Workman said. "I think you should do everything you can to keep dispatch in this county, because if you move it out you could cost someone their life."

Several county residents spoke during the meeting, which lasted close to two hours. The Fiscal Court plans to meet twice more - once in May to hold a budget workshop and a second time in June to finalize it - before making the decision on the jail and dispatch's future.

"We can't gamble a whole lot, and to be honest there isn't much to gamble with," Pruitt said. "And I don't think the majority of the taxpayers want us to throw the dice and gamble."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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