To the Editor:
I believe the fiscal court has a tough decision to make regarding the jail situation. I understand that spoken promises were made by the KY Department of Corrections during the jail planning phase in the 1990s; however, state administrations change, laws change, and regulations change. It’s too bad these “promises” didn’t come in the form of a written contract so we could hold them accountable. The fact of the matter is jails and prisons are not profiteering ventures; otherwise they would all be private.
Corrections cost money and are huge drains on government budgets whether it is local, state or federal –a fact that the fiscal court should have considered prior to building a full-service detention facility with 75 beds. Currently, we are the only county in Kentucky with a population of less than 5,000 that has a full-service detention facility. Along with the passage of sentence reforms that released minimum custody inmates, HB463 also placed our circuit court in a bind, forcing it to use probation as sanctions rather than incarceration.
Quite frankly, our county isn’t large enough population-wise to support a full-service jail. The good news is that means that we have a relatively low violent crime rate in Hickman County. The tragic news is that if the fiscal court elects to close, it will affect at least 19 families that are represented by a county employee or contract employee. In a county our size, we have to realize that 19 jobs are enough to impact the local economy, not to mention the payroll taxes gained by the city and county governments.
Furthermore, are we ready to swallow the fact that we will be paying a $168,000 annual debt service ($1.6 million) on an empty county-owned building for the next 10 years? What about the loss of free inmate labor that has saved hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars over the past 14 years? These are conversations we need to have with one another and weigh ALL of the options before making a decision with such a large impact. I would recommend a public forum where all options are presented and the public is given an open mic to speak their opinions to their magistrate and judge-executive.
On the dispatch issue, it’s a no-brainer to me. We cannot put a price of public safety. The first duty of local government is public protection. As my fellow emergency personnel will agree, moving the 911 dispatch out of the county is very dangerous to our citizens for a variety of reasons. Multiple jurisdictions have the same street/road names and a wrong call-out could cost lives. When it comes to triaging emergency calls, will “home rule” come into effect and a Hickman County call get put on hold?
Officer safety is also paramount in this decision. We have some parts of the county that officers cannot use their handheld radios. Imagine if they had to radio an additional 20-30 mile range. These are just a few on many reasons to keep the dispatch center in Hickman County. We need to be focusing on adding the next generation of 911 dispatch technology so we can be better prepared WHEN the next emergency strikes. I can guarantee that if elected, dispatch WILL always remain in Hickman County.
The fiscal court has done an excellent job stepping up and supporting the ambulance service. By doing so, we have avoided an additional “ambulance tax” and the taxes we currently pay are getting their intended use –public safety. I oppose an additional “ambulance tax” and believe we can continue the support we are currently providing. The ambulance board is continually reviewing its financial situation. When revenues stabilize, I believe the ambulance board will review the county subsidy amount and request a reduction if appropriate. Of course, this depends on the viability of our two nursing facilities as well. With our aging population, we must keep our ambulance service fully staffed and top-notch in emergency medical technology to provide to best treatment and care for our citizens.
All in all, if we don’t step up, we will soon become just a stoplight in another county. That’s why my slogan is “Hickman County First!” It’s time we start putting a priority on Hickman County and stop erasing county lines to the place we call “home.”