Lack of air conditioning at jail prompts commission to declare emergency

Published 3:15 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

County officials declared an emergency at the Chilton County Jail on Monday after learning that two air conditioner units have stopped working.

Chilton County commissioners unanimously voted to give commission chairman Allen Caton the authority under emergency measures to negotiate a price with a qualified air conditioner specialist and authorize the purchase of the two air conditioners in Pod D of the jail.

Representatives from the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department were present at Monday’s meeting and commissioners heard from Chilton County Jail Warden Trae Barfield.

Barfield spoke about the conditions at the jail describing Pod D as sometimes reaching 118-120 degrees inside.

“I don’t think we need to wait on this,” Commissioner Shannon Welch said. “These guys are inmates, but they are still human beings. It isn’t right to have them stay in an area where the temperatures are getting above 100 degrees.”

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis told commissioners the current air conditioning units at the jail were “residential” units as opposed to commercial units.

“When the jail was built the residential units were installed,” Davis said. “Now, we are having to replace those units because they are old and need repairs. Every unit we have is more than 15 years old.”

Barfield said a third unit stopped working on Monday.

“In some pods there is air, but in other pods, it is really warm,” Barfield said. “We have been putting Band-Aids on the problem, and now we are about to be hit with everything going down at one time.”

Commissioners discussed pricing options but were not sure how much commercial air conditioning units would cost to install.

Commissioner Heedy Hayes asked where the money would come from to replace the units.

Commissioners said the money would come out of the Capital Improvement Fund.

Caton told commissioners he would negotiate a price for the two air conditioning units at the jail and commissioners would discuss fixing the third unit at the July 14 commission meeting.

Caton said on Tuesday he met with individuals at the jail on Tuesday morning to discuss options for replacing the two units in Pod D.

Although Caton was unsure when the two units stopped working, he said it was his understanding Pod D has not had air for roughly two weeks.

“That is why there was a big push to get the problem fixed,” Caton said. “I was able to meet with someone and negotiate a price with them to have the two units installed on Thursday.”

Caton said it would cost the county roughly $15,000 to install the two commercial units with the money coming from the Capital Improvement Fund.

Caton clarified that the current units at the jail are 6-ton units, which come in a “residential package” but are not residential units.

“The units that are currently in the jail are smaller units,” Caton said. “What we are having put in are larger units which are about 7.5 tons and are commercial units.”

In other news regarding the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department, commissioners met in an executive session for roughly one hour at the request of commissioner Joseph Parnell.

Parnell requested the executive session to discuss “public safety” and asked Davis to stay in the executive session.

Hayes asked Caton prior to the executive session if there would be any action taken after the session concluded.

Caton told Hayes there would be a vote taken at the end.

After meeting behind closed doors, commissioners reconvened into regular session, and Parnell said he had three resolutions he wanted to propose.

The first resolution gave county administrator Connie Powell and Caton the authority to initiate a line of credit for the county to borrow money.

Everyone voted in favor of the motion.

The second resolution dealt with salaries for employees at the Chilton County Jail.

“We are down to under $110,000 in the jail salary fund and that is about 1.5 pay periods,” Parnell said. “We have seven pay periods left in the year.”

Parnell said he wanted to authorize Powell to borrow the amount of money “necessary” to keep current salary funding at the jail at roughly $34,300 per pay period.

“I want to stay at or below that amount for the remainder of the year,” Parnell said.

Caton explained on Tuesday that money from the jail portion of the sheriff’s budget had been depleted to only having enough to cover a little more than one pay period for the jail’s employees.

Caton said there are roughly 20 employees including the warden, guards, cooks, etc. who are paid from the jail portion of the budget.

“In order for us to be able to maintain the workforce at the jail, we had to figure out something to be able to pay them because there was not enough money in the budget to cover paying those employees,” Caton said.

Parnell’s third resolution proposed the commission authorize the purchase of fuel for the sheriff’s department.

“I want to buy a truckload of fuel as soon as possible because the sheriff’s department is out of fuel,” Parnell said. “I would like the tank to be cleaned before the fuel is delivered. I want the load of fuel to be pro-rated at $12,000 per month in fuel consumption. We have been using $17,000, and I would like to add that we appropriate $4,000 per month for maintenance on the patrol cars with the understanding we will not do any major repairs on older cars until the end of the year.”

Everyone voted in favor.

Caton said on Tuesday he was proud of the commissioners for stepping up to make the decisions regarding the sheriff’s department on Monday.

“It wasn’t easy for us, but I am proud of the way we handled things,” Caton said. “I appreciate the commission’s confidence in Joseph [Parnell] and myself to come up with a plan to help the sheriff with his budget. Joseph is a relatively new commissioner, but he worked last night like a seasoned veteran and I want to thank him for that. He stepped up, and it means a lot to me that we worked out a plan for us to be able to move forward.”