Joint Jail Committee ‘still exists’

Published 7:59 am Friday, August 14, 2020

The Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail agreement is intact and the two governments are still overseeing the finances of the Boyle County Detention Center. However, the 23-year-old interlocal agreement will probably be getting a few “tweaks” in the future.

Questions about the agreement arose about two weeks ago when Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford announced he was taking himself off the committee because of his concerns of liability issues since the agreement didn’t follow Kentucky statutes.

Boyle Fiscal Court then questioned if the committee was viable with only four remaining members, and if it wasn’t, then how would the jail be funded and would the interlocal agreement between the two counties change.

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A meeting between officials from both counties met last week to discuss the interlocal agreement.

During Tuesday’s regular Boyle Fiscal Court meeting, Magistrate John Caywood said he wanted a report from Boyle County Judge-Executive Howard Hunt and the two magistrates on the county’s jail committee, Tom Ellis and Jamey Gay, who attended that meeting.

“It was ultimately decided at that meeting that we would continue with the committee meetings. The joint jail committee still exists. I want to make that perfectly clear,” Gay said. “If the jailer does not want to participate in that and he feels like there’s some constitutional reason he can’t, then that’s his decision. Our feeling is that the joint jail committee continues and it still exists and it will continue to exist.”

Ellis said he believed the issue had been “simmering” for some time. But at the meeting with Mercer officials, “The atmosphere in the room to me was as collaborative as it could possibly be.”

Ellis added that before the meeting, he was “leaning very, very strongly” toward ending the relationship with Mercer County. But after the discussion, he had changed his mind because “we had this remarkably good discussion with good ideas all around the table on how we might proceed.”

Ellis said, “This is the most unique contract in all my years of looking at contracts.” He said that Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean explained the contract wording was such that, “I cannot divorce you and you cannot divorce me. It takes both signatures to eliminate the joint jail as it’s existed for 23 years.”

Ellis added that Dean eluded to the fact that Boyle may be “significantly challenged,” if it decided to walk away from the agreement, even though Mercer had paid $3.5 million toward the debt of building the current jail over the past two decades.

“That’s a very sobering concept if you take it to its extreme,” Ellis said.

Hunt said he had “learned a lot” and that he had had a “misunderstanding or misinterpretation”, of how the agreement was written.

Hunt said they will “seek some tweaks to the interlocal agreement. I just think this is a good time to look at those kinds of things.”

He also wants to address the jailer’s concerns about the legality of parts of the agreement, specifically about offering mental health services.

“I like his vision. I like what he’s trying to do at the jail. I truly endorse and support that,” Hunt said.

“His (Wofford’s) vision of mental health, which we have all read, is what is needed. We have to bring Mercer along to help,” Caywood added.

In a previous story in The Advocate-Messenger, Wofford had stated, “The constitution clearly states that we have to provide mental health services to inmates.”

But last year during budget discussions, the two Mercer County joint jail committee members “didn’t want us to have the mental health services part of it,” Wofford said.

“Basically, you’re allowing two people that’re elected in Mercer County to influence decisions in Boyle County where they’ve not been elected.”

On Tuesday, Magistrate Jason Cullen agreed. “If we’ve got a history where we have had policy influence, not just financial, he has every right to be concerned. Apparently there is an issue out there and we really need to stand behind our Boyle County jailer.”


History of the Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail agreement


Former Boyle Judge-Executive Tony Wilder was at Tuesday’s fiscal court meeting to explain why the joint jail was formed between the two counties, and not as a regional jail.

In the late 1990s, when Wilder was judge-executive and when the current jail was built, it was an $8 million project, Wilder said. Even with the support of a $2 million grant, the remaining $6 million debt was shared with Mercer County which agreed to partner with Boyle to build it. “Just think about it. You just paid it off in 2018.”

And now Boyle is considering a major overhaul of the existing facility or building a new one which could cost between $25 million and $30 million, potentially without a partner, “That’s why I’m interested,” Wilder said.

“We explored the regional jail statute. It was a disaster. It was flawed. That’s why we chose to go this route.”

He said the main reason regional jails hadn’t been successful was because “they did not write into that statute a central authority to run the jail. … There were conflicts all the time,” Wilder said.

“We tried to come up with the best way to do this for the people of Boyle County. What we did, and what you all carried on, was saving the people of Boyle County money because … you had a committed partner,” being Mercer County.

“The joint jail committee had an obligation to Boyle County. But they also had to demonstrate some leadership, some statesmanship, and some basically common sense courtesy for our partner. That was important.

“In Frankfort, it was heralded as a breakthrough. … It was the first time two counties got together as partners, not only to build a new jail, but manage a new jail, and do it where one county concedes authority,” Wilder said.

The joint jail committee was organized as a way “to offer our partner county, our sister county, our continuous county, some courtesy when it came time to have a say in how to spend money. I think it speaks so well for two counties to join forces and to deliver a very, very vital and essential and important service as your jail.”


Other Boyle County Fiscal Court actions that took place during its regular meeting on Aug. 11 include:

  • approval of the second reading of zoning ordinance amendment to allow rick houses to be constructed on land zoned agricultural;
  • approval of first reading of ordinance for Energize Kentucky PACE funding which will give industries financial assistance for constructing energy efficient projects;
  • approval for naming a previously unnamed street in Old Bridge subdivision to Lakewood Drive for 911 purposes;
  • approval to solicit bids for the construction of a recreational trail on Ky. 2168 from the roundabout to the train overpass.