Crawford County officials push proposed site for new jail

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The effort to build a new jail in Crawford County has taken another step forward with the tentative selection of a location for the proposed facility. According to Sheriff Ron Brown, the county has selected a location just east of Van Buren on U.S. Highway 64.

"It's right within a quarter mile of the I-540/40 interchange," he said. "Also, it's adjacent to the city and it's within a few hundred yards of (Arkansas Highway 282)."

County Judge John Hall said the 8.5 acre site was offered to the county by two sellers, Sharon Lewis who is selling 3.5 acres for $225,000, and Sharon White, who is selling five acres for $50,000. The physical address of the property is 4301 Alma Highway.

Hall said while the tentative deal with the property owners, who offered their properties for sale to the county after the county put out bids to acquire land for the jail, there were several issues that had to be worked through before finalizing a plan to possibly place a new jail at the site.

First, the county would have to conduct an environmental impact study to make sure the area was suitable for a large-scale jail capable of housing hundreds of inmates.

Second, a proposed set of sales taxes to fund construction of the jail and subsequent law enforcement operations would have to pass in an election to be held May 20. The two ballot questions will ask voters to pass a half-cent sales tax for nine years to fund construction of the jail and a permanent quarter-cent sales tax to fund law enforcement operations in the county, including jail operations. If passed, the county's largest cities of Van Buren and Alma will see sales tax rates of 10.25%, among the highest local sales tax rates in the nation.

Hall said a third obstacle that would have to be formally overcome is a vote of the Quorum Court, though he said eight members of the Court were on a site-seeing trip to the proposed jail sites around the county and the consensus was the Alma Highway location.

The fourth issue is whether the county's architect will find the location feasible for not only the jail, but a new sheriff's department. Hall said the announcement of an architect for the project will take place Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Brown said the location, in his opinion, is far more preferable than the jail and sheriff's office current location on Main Street in Van Buren.

"The (proposed new site) also has a paved crossover to cross the median, so deputies leaving the office needing to respond to the east side of the county can cross right there. Also, for a response to Rudy, we're right at (Highway) 282. And it gives us interstate access for far western parts of the county."

Hall said the proposed location would give "every city in the county …access to the jail and it will have centralized access. Van Buren is right there. Mountainburg and (other cities) can all come down Interstate 40 and get to it. It's got the access and the easy way to get in and out. You won't have to spend time behind the railroad tracks (in downtown Van Buren) or in traffic."

The judge said the county had submitted a tentative contract to the landowners, though he said anything could happen at this point.

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"We signed a deal to do this, but I have not received the papers back from the landowners. The real estate (company, Coldwell Banker, is) handling it. They're the ones doing it. They've submitted the proposal and costs. …But there's nothing that can't change if somebody decides something different. But I have received no documentation back from the owners that they would accept what we proposed (with price)."

Brown said the county had also placed a contingency clause in the contract giving the county an out should the still unnamed architect say the site is not large enough to house the jail. But Brown believes the site is large enough not just for the new jail, but also for expansion.

"Back in 2012, maybe the latter part of 2011, I hired an architect company to show them what our needs were. We used a similar site to that and they said it would leave us a large enough site and room around it to accommodate the (future) need."

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