By Callie Hietala
The Henry County Sheriff’s Office is offering the public a chance to walk the halls of its newly-constructed Adult Detention Center (ADC) this weekend. The 400-bed facility, located at 800 Dupont Road in Martinsville, will be open for guided group tours on Friday, March 18, from 1-9 p.m. and Saturday, March 19 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 20, will begin a lockdown period for final preparations to begin moving inmates into the facility.
Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner said officers will begin the process of moving inmates from the current jail to the new facility on March 25, in keeping with a tentative timeline presented to the Henry County Board of Supervisors in January 2016.
“Considering the magnitude of the legislative action, the efforts securing a credit rating, the tasks of issuing bonds, the efforts to design, bid, and build, and doing it all during a worldwide pandemic, the fact that it is exactly on schedule seven years later is very impressive,” Wagoner wrote in an email.
The new jail will house both male and female inmates, and has areas ranging from minimum to maximum security.
According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, Piedmont Community Services will have an office inside the facility with the ability to treat inmates in need of mental health services. Wellpath Medical Services will have staff and offices within the jail as will Good News Jail Ministry. Classrooms were constructed for approved volunteer groups to help inmates with educational needs, including earning a GED.
A number of county residents have raised concerns about the cost of the new jail and rumors have circulated that the project is over budget.
Wagoner said that the county is still under budget for the total project.
He noted that a reference on the county website in 2017 estimated the jail construction cost at $68 million, but he explained that number was a “rough estimate before the initial design work was completed.”
The price of the jail has remained consistent since the initial design meeting Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) requirements was completed.
In the spring of 2018, the Virginia General Assembly approved a state budget that included $18,759,878 for the 25 percent reimbursement to Henry County for the jail, he wrote.
In a letter dated July 11, 2018, VDOC notified Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry that the State Board of Corrections approved the county’s submitted Community Based Corrections Plan and Planning Study.
“In approving the Planning Study,” the letter stated, “the board approved eligible state reimbursement funding for construction in an amount up to $18,759,878, or the 25 percent of the approved eligible cost of $75,039,512.”
Included with the letter was a copy of the Virginia Acts of Assembly approved in June of 2018 showing funding for 25 percent reimbursement was appropriated “in an amount not to exceed” the aforementioned $18.75 million.
The minutes of the August 2019 Board of Supervisors meeting indicate the board unanimously approved awarding a $49,074,062 contract to the Lynchburg-based English Construction Company, Inc. for the construction of the new jail.
The minutes state that two qualified vendors submitted bids for the project and staff negotiated with the low bidder “to further reduce the cost of the contract and to value-engineer certain aspects of the design.” English’s bid, according to the minutes, was $49,074,062 for construction, including $750,000 for per unit fees related to foundation work.
“The county will be able to realize additional savings by purchasing many of the materials and supplies needed for construction directly from the vendor,” the minutes stated. “Collectively, the total cost for constructing the facility and purchasing the materials and supplies is $64,126,857. Contracts for furniture, fixtures, and kitchen equipment are not included in this proposal and will be presented to the Board for its consideration at a future date.”
At its Sept. 2019 meeting, the board unanimously approved amending the award of contract to English Construction to the full amount of $64,126,857, thereby allowing “better control of inventory of materials and supplies as they are needed on the job site.” Further, the minutes state, the move would “place any burden of cost escalation on English Construction.”
However, the county would still be able to make direct purchases of materials and supplies “to realize additional savings. When this occurs, English Construction will issue a deductive change order to reduce the total payment amount due to them,” according to the minutes.
Wagoner said that the county purchased several materials directly from vendors “to take advantage of government pricing and no sales tax.” He estimated that the extra work on the part of county staff saved the county approximately $4.2 million on the project.
A document provided by Wagoner on Feb. 22 shows the amount of purchase orders issued for the jail project totaling $72,525,330. Wagoner said as of March 15, $69,195,115 had been spent.
Part of that cost, he noted, was $1,089,530 spent on improvements to Dupont Road which “serves a much greater good than just for the jail project.”
The improvements mean the road can be accepted into the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT’s) secondary road system, he said, adding that means VDOT will assume responsibility for road maintenance, including snow removal and any future repaving.
“It will also allow further sub-division of the entire DuPont property for other economic development projects and public safety operations,” he noted. “Currently, the cost of maintaining the road is shared by all of the tenants at the site,” he said of the county, DuPont, and Invista.
Funding the construction of the jail was a 3-phase process, Wagoner explained. Around 2016, the county took out a $10 million loan to cover the initial startup costs of the project, including architectural design and purchasing the land. He noted that the county did not use the entire amount.
Wagoner said at a supervisor meeting in September 2019, financial consultant David Rose, of Davenport & Company, “discussed the strategic financing plan for the jail at approximately $76 million and assuming a reimbursement of $18.75 million from the state.”
The minutes from that meeting state that “In 2018, Davenport assisted the county with securing bonds on the open market to cover the majority of the cost of constructing the new facility.”
The county, Wagoner said, “has followed this plan and has only financed $76 million, with the state’s 25 percent being reimbursed at the end of the project so the total debt can be paid down.”
The initial 2018 bonds paid for 75 percent of the cost of the jail, and paid off the initial startup loan, Wagoner said. In 2019, the county issued another series of bonds to pay off the remaining balance.
“For each phase of the financing, there were several public hearings relating to the financing and much public discussion,” he continued.
In 2018, the supervisors approved a tax increase on real estate and personal property, with the additional revenues going toward the debt service on the jail, Wagoner said, and noted that the increase was only intended to pay down the costs of construction and not to fund ongoing operational costs.
That funding issue was brought up by County Administrator Tim Hall at the supervisor’s annual planning session held in the new jail on Feb. 8.
There, Hall said that while the county anticipated saving roughly $1 million annually by being able to house all inmates in the new facility (currently, some county inmates are outsourced to other locations at a cost to the county), the savings would not be enough to cover all ongoing operational costs.
He discussed the possibility of either tax hikes or funding cuts to help the county meet its budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, caused not only by the operational cost of the jail but a number of other factors, including unfunded mandates, school funding requests, and maintaining law enforcement salary increases.
Wagoner said the best he recalls, county tax increases have always been for specific projects like the new jail. He could not recall a time when county taxes were increased to cover inflation, pay increases, or other ongoing costs.
While no solution for the issue of covering operational costs for the new facility has been announced, the county is still undergoing its budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year.