The Jeff Davis Parish (JDP) Police Jury has announced their plans to purchase 17 acres of property located just west of the Highway 90 overpass in Jennings.
The tract of undeveloped commercial acreage, just west of the abandoned Angelle Concrete plant and directly across the street from the La. Department of Transportation and Development office, would serve as the location of the new Jeff Davis Parish Jail.
The police jury has been in negotiations with Earline Evans Angelle, a representative of the Earl B. Evans Inc. Estate, for the 17.02-acre tract.
“We have agreed that the parish will pay the negotiated price of $272,320 or the appraised value, whichever is less,” said Police Jury President Donald Woods.
For example, if the appraisal on the property comes back at $300,000, the parish will only pay $272,320; if the appraisal comes back at $225,000, the parish will pay the lesser amount.
“We hope to complete all state requirements, such as the appraisal and environmental study, within three months,” Woods explained. “At that point, we will be able to close on the property and secure the title within a total of 150 days.”
Initially, there were also two other pieces of property under consideration, Woods said, but for various reasons, it was determined that these properties were not viable.
JDP Sheriff Ivy Woods said the property the police jury has chosen is perfect, noting that the entrance to the property fronts Hwy. 90, and then widens, which is where the new facility will be built. "The property is close to the parish courthouse, yet not situated in the middle of town, and it is in an industrial area, so there are no private residences nearby. Also, water and sewage lines are already on site. It is the perfect site for a jail."
The parish received $10 million in State Capital Outlay funds for the purchase of land and construction costs for a new 200-bed parish jail.
The state has never provided capital outlay funding for a jail, nor has the state ever given capital outlay monies for a non-state project without requiring that the parish first provide matching funds for the project — a savings of $3,333,333 in the case of the jail, according to Senator Jerry Theunissen, who was instrumental in acquiring the state funding.
This funding can only be utilized to purchase the property and build a jail - not for operation and maintenance of the facility, Theunissen explained.
“It will be the police jury’s responsibility to operate and maintain the jail, and the sheriff’s responsibility to oversee the operations,” he said. “The police jury has decided to do that through the 10-year half-cent sales tax.
Although the police jury had hoped to disclose the proposed jail location sooner, Theunissen said it was not in the parish’s best interest to do so.
“It is in the best interest of the parish to secure a good deal,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s best to keep such information very confidential until a firm, workable deal is in place. Now that we have that, we are able to release the actual location.”
Theunissen said this is another step towards constructing a new jail for JDP, after two years of working to secure state funding.
“There is approximately $1.8 million in cash waiting for us to get started,” Theunissen said, “with the remainder of the $10 million to be disbursed as needed throughout the project.”
However, Theunissen warned that the state will not fund a facility that will sit idle due to lack of funding to operate it and maintain it.
“People have asked what would happen if the tax fails. If that should happen, it doesn’t necessarily mean the state will refuse the allocated funding. But the police jury would have to find the monies needed for operation and maintenance, such as through a property millage," he said.
He added that other issues arise if the tax fails.
"Once the state sells the bonds that fund the jail project, there is a two-year window to use all of the monies in that appropriation," Theunissen further explained. "So, if the tax fails and the police jury is forced to find other means of funding the operation and maintenance, the time frame to build the jail is lessened. Any of the funds that are unspent during the two-year window could be taken back by the state and re-appropriated to other projects.
"Simply put," Theunissen further advised, "failure to pass this tax could jeopardize the entire project.”
Ronnie Petree, a member of Citizens Committee for a Safer Jeff Davis Parish, said some voters have expressed that they are withholding their support of the tax until the location of the jail is disclosed.
“Now that we are able, we have disclosed the location,” Petree said. “We hope those who were withholding their support will now vote in favor of the tax. We firmly believe we have made a good case to construct, operate and maintain a new 200-bed jail. With this tax, everyone pays, including people who don’t live here, but are doing business here."
In closing, Petree said, "We have tried to answer all the questions that have been raised about the proposed jail and tax.
We’ve been up front and honest in our answers. Now, we need the people of Jeff Davis Parish to support this tax by voting ‘yes’ on Saturday, May 3.”