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Shelby County Commission approves jail repairs – including locks

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners locked down a resolution to fund repairs to cell doors in the aging Shelby County Jail during its May 20 meeting this week.

In addition to purchasing motors for cell doors, the emergency resolution will also pay Cornerstone Detention Products, Inc. for repairs to the programmable logic controller. The computer controls jail doors in the facility at 201 Poplar in Memphis.

The resolution will draw from the SCSO FY2024 general operating budget. The total cost is $345,632.37.

Motors to cell doors on the fourth-floor lockup no longer function — many failures due to inmate vandalism. The SCSO attached a justification to an April 2 invoice submitted by Cornerstone.

Furthermore, all 340 cell doors no longer work electronically, following an MLGW-caused March 25 power surge. Staff are currently operating the doors manually. Another invoice from Cornerstone on April 4 included another justification underscoring the mounting problem.

“Without this repair, inmates can potentially reach out, assault staff, assault each other and can potentially bypass the manual locking doors,” read the justification.

On May 3, inmates at 201 Poplar set a fire in a housing unit. The door was tied from the inside with bedsheets, preventing deputies from entering.  Staff used chemical agents to de-escalate the situation. Four inmates were treated for minor injuries.

Jail lock failures were also highlighted during a May 15 budget presentation from the Sheriff’s Office. The security risk has prevented officials — like commission members — from visiting the lockup.

The item passed 10-0. It was sponsored by Commissioner Erika Sugarmon.

In addition to Sheriff Floyd Bonner, several members of the commission have advocated for a new jail to be built at an estimated cost of $1 billion.

The county lockup, popularly known as “201 Poplar,” was built in 1981 to house 1,200 inmates. It currently averages around 3,000 inmates.

Moving forward to the FY2025 budget, commissioners also approved a fill-in-the-blank tax rate ordinance in its second reading during the Monday meeting. 

However, the tax is expected to maintain the current rate of $3.39 for the third and final reading. 

With the current breakdown, $1.40 of the final rate is committed to the general fund. It pays for many operating costs. Another $1.54 is earmarked for the county’s seven-school system. A third revenue source of 45 cents would fund the county’s debt service. It is used to pay for capital improvement projects.

Nevertheless, commissioners are still mulling the proposed budget of Mayor Lee Harris, which calls for no new taxes, but does propose a six percent raise for nearly every county employee.

The proposal also includes funding to rebuild the Regional One Health campus, along with new high schools for Cordova and Frayser. All three projects have exceeded their original cost estimates. Mayor Lee Harris has requested commissioners to up funding for the hospital to $500 million over a decade to fund the first phase of the project. The original estimate was $350 million. 

Harris came up empty-handed when he requested $350 million from the state legislature earlier this month. He is working with state officials, along with other sources of funding. One idea being considered: Shelby County co-owning the medical center with the UT Health and Sciences Center.

The Harris Administration has assured commissioners the county can afford to finance Phase I of the project and the new schools. Members are considering delaying the latter.

In other business, members gave a thumbs up to the appointment of Meggan Keil to the Memphis Area Transit Authority. The move requires the City of Memphis to include another appointee from the county mayor. Talks are underway. 

Commissioners opted to make the appointment, following the encouragement from the administration. 

“Approval of this item puts us in a stronger position when negotiating with the city,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Frankie Dakin.

Keil was a failed candidate for the Memphis City Council last year. He manages a grant for the Center of Disease Control and Prevention at the University of Memphis School of Public Health.

 

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