BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — The Sullivan County Commission on Thursday approved two resolutions in an effort to alleviate inmate overcrowding in the county’s jail facilities.

One resolution, approved 18-1 with three abstentions and two commissioners absent, invites input on short-term solutions from Sheriff Jeff Cassidy, District Attorney General Barry Staubus, Public Defender Andrew Gibbons and Criminal and General Sessions courts judges within 60 days for ways to reduce the inmate population. A called commission meeting will be held within the next 30 days to bring all of the officials together, according to the amended resolution.

Both jail facilities are chronically overcrowded and, on average, surpass combined capacity by around 400 inmates. Since February, work has been underway by design firms Michael Brady Inc., or MBI, and TreanorHL to develop the master plan with the goal of determining whether to remodel and expand the current facilities or build a new jail.

The architects revealed two options — renovate and expand both facilities for $84.7 million or build a 297,000-square-foot jail on a new 30-acre site for $110 million. Either option would increase the capacity from 619 to around 1,400. Currently, the total inmate population is more than 1,000.

Mayor Richard Venable said Thursday the architects will present all options to the commission on Nov. 7.

A second resolution regarding inmate overcrowding requests proposals from consultants for construction management services through a bid process to oversee the expansion and renovation of the current jail facilities or the construction of a new jail if the commission approves a building project. Before someone is hired, the bids received will be brought to the commission for a vote. If a consultant is hired, they would also oversee financial planning for the project, Venable said.

Commissioner Joe Herron told the commission he believes the resolution is a “proactive” step and that a new jail will have to be built. Commissioner Dwight King, who last week at the commission’s work session said it’s too early to request proposals, said Thursday a consultant is needed to help get a plan together, and after that’s done a project manager needs to be hired.

The resolution was approved with 22 commissioners voting in favor of the resolution and two absent.

In other business

On waiver of rules, the commission approved a 2% pay increase for school system employees except those who are federal employees. Nearly $497,000 will come out of the system’s undesignated fund balance, or surplus money, to pay for the raises, according to the resolution. Nineteen commissioners voted in favor of the resolution while one abstained and two were absent.

Commissioner Hershel Glover’s resolution asking for an additional 1% raise to “become more closely aligned with neighboring city [school] systems” within the county will be heard on second reading in November.

The commission also approved, on waiver of rules, a resolution to authorize the issuance of a $3.9 million bond to build three Emergency Medical Services stations and renovate a current one. The estimated cost is between $3.2 million and $3.5 million, according to EMS Director Gary Mayes.

Commissioner Mark Vance, who sponsored the resolution, said the goal is to request bids in November and start construction in January. A 1-cent increase on the tax rate that was approved earlier this year will pay for the bond.

A resolution to change the commission’s meeting time from 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month to 9 a.m. was considered on first reading, but there was no discussion. It will be voted on in November.

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lspell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @BHC_Lurah | Facebook.com/lurah.lowery

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