By Joel Hall
Air conditioning equipment at the county prison soon may function better, thanks to a recommendation from the recently-formed Finance Committee of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.
The committee held its first regular meeting Monday and heard financial recommendations from several department heads.
The committee plans to recommend to the board that the Clayton County Prison receive $260,000 for a long-awaited commercial chiller. The committee also will recommend the county police receive funding to become nationally accredited, and that a dispute resolution program be created to help the county avoid protracted legal battles with vendors.
Since January of last year, the Clayton County Prison, located in Lovejoy, has sought to replace its aging commercial chiller. It is used to cool the entire prison. If the chiller were to shut down, the prison would have to transfer all of its inmates elsewhere, said Frank Smith, the prison's warden.
For more than a year, the chiller has been running on four out of five compressors with broken controls, according Smith.
"The controls are awful," he said. "The chiller is basically on or off. We actually use more energy in the way that it operates now. In times like the spring, it can actually be too cold, because we can't moderate it.
"One of the compressors is permanently out," he said. "On an extremely hot day, we may have five compressors in operation, but that is impossible now. It's not as critical in the winter, that is why we wanted to replace the thing during the winter."
Smith said the prison has no windows that open, and that if the chiller were to fail completely, all of the prison's inmates would have to be split between the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson and the Al Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth. If that were to happen, the county could lose money in state funding, as well as a source of inmate labor.
"We get a stipend from the state every day for every inmate," said Smith. "We don't get that money if that inmate is not there. It would really set us back and it would cost some revenue."
Smith said this year, the $260,000 needed for a new chiller with controls has been budgeted, so approval by the county commission "should be a fairly simple matter."
The Finance Committee also plans to recommend the police department receive $7,065 per year for three years to complete a national accreditation process. Achieving national accreditation for the police department through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., has been a goal for Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner since becoming chief in November 2006.
Turner says the accreditation covers all aspects of police work, including hiring practices, training, pursuit policy, use of force and evidence handling.
"By having accreditation, it gives us the ability to get more grant money, which is a benefit for the county. It definitely improves morale because there is no gray area," Turner said. "It prevents you from having lawsuits because you are actually acting on the policies that are in place."
In other action, the Finance Committee considered a proposal by Rod Gray, director of the Central Services Department, to create a dispute resolution policy to help the county settle disputes with contract workers before they go to court.
"In such a litigious society, it really protects the county," said Gray. "It would give us a chance to settle disputes between the vendors and the county without going to litigation. This would just define a process."
The Board of Commissioners could take up these matters this evening, during its regular business meeting at 7 p.m. The meeting will take place at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith St., Jonesboro.