“Are we going to build this thing or not?” Commissioner Bob Ellis said at the end of a lengthy debate. Decrying the extended argument, he said as a taxpayer he didn’t look forward to paying for a new jail — but as a county official, he had the responsibility to provide the facility, and that meant deciding what was needed and how to fund it.
Ellis would not support any jail proposal that required raising property taxes, he said.
After a further wrangle over whether the current projected cost for a new jail was $1.68 billion or $1.685 billion, commissioners finally voted – with Pitts still casting the lone opposing vote.
Commissioners have debated several options for the jail, from a $2 billion project with 5,480 beds to renovation of the current Rice Street facility and construction of smaller additions.
The agreed-upon plan is a middle course, with phased construction of a 4,500-bed facility based on best-case projections for population growth and court efficiency to keep jail occupancy under control.
The new jail is expected to have room for more inmates and vastly expanded medical and mental health services, plus educational and reentry program space. Construction is projected to last from 2026 through 2028.
For construction money, the county will likely issue bonds through a third party such as the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail Authority. County staff are exploring creation of a sales tax to pay the debt, though officials acknowledge that will be a hard sell to state legislators and local voters. Ellis in particular has urged exploration of other funding sources — except for raising property taxes.
When it came to funding more planning for the new jail and keeping the old one running, commissioners balked. Another resolution proposed using this year’s higher property tax receipts to create a reserve fund of up to $40 million “to cover expenses pertaining to the jail bridging plan and replacement jail design/construction.”
After more back-and-forth, commissioners voted 6-0 to put that idea on hold.