Help is on the way

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ASKEWVILLE – Bertie County Commissioners at their regular monthly meeting here March 16 voted to approve nearly $200,000 from the county’s fund balance and earmark it as the county’s portion for the correction of deficiencies, or repairs, at the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail on County Farm Road in Windsor.

The Jail, a medium security prison facility, is used by the two counties to confine inmates for short periods while they are awaiting trial or processing. As inmates are staying for only a short time, it has fewer amenities than a regular jail or prison.

In October of last year a jail inspector from the Department of Health & Human Services Division of Health Service Regulation inspected the Windsor facility to determine compliance and found deficiencies needing correction.  In late December the Jail’s leadership began accumulating cost estimates for these repairs and came to just over $332,000 with a 15 percent contingency.  Later, when the cost of optional pneumatic jail doors to address security concerns was added, it brought the budgeted total to nearly $420,000.

“One of the things this board is focused on is infrastructure needs in this county,” said Commission Chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson, as discussion began. “For so many years things have been put off, whether it’s the Courthouse, the Extension Building after the flood, or the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail.  Sometimes we wait until the state comes down and says you’ve got to make some improvements now, and they force our hand. What this Board would like to do is get ahead of the pace and deal with the infrastructure needs in this county because they are serious.”

Wesson said among the things infrastructure delays affect are economic development, quality of life, and many other things.

“We’ve got to get ahead of this pace instead of being reactive,” he stated.

Commissioner John Trent is Bertie’s representative on the Regional Jail Board and its vice-chair.  He didn’t mince words in describing the ills that needed curing in the infrastructure of the facility.

“Basically, everything in the Jail itself,” Trent said.

Trent went on to say among the more pressing needs is the replacement of the original flat asphalt and rock roof installed when the facility was built in 1983.

“They (roof’s) typically last about 15 years,” he continued.

Trent went on to cite a laundry list of  other necessary improvements, including cleaning the Jail’s HVAC system, replacing tile and sheet metal, and upgrades to the system’s plumbing, as well as needed painting.

Trent says he walked the entire approximately 20,000 square feet of the Jail and he presented to the Board cost estimates from subcontractors for the work that had been submitted to the Jail board following the inspection and said it’s been proposed the cost for the improvements to be $400,000, split between Bertie and Martin counties.

Commission vice-chair Tammy Lee inquired about hiring a maintenance firm to handle future upkeep of the Jail, and Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore commented on the repair costs.  Trent answered the issue has come before the Jail board and would be addressed as a possible future appropriation for Bertie County since Martin County handles the Jail’s finances.

“Once we get this Jail caught up to where it needs to be, then people can do these types of things,” Trent added. “But the amount of work that needs to be done is going to have to be a subcontractor coming in to handle it because we don’t have the personnel or capability to do what needs to be done for 20,000 square feet.”

“Our job as Commissioners is that we protect the citizens of this county,” Wesson said. “If don’t move to improve the infrastructure, we’re putting a financial risk and burden on all the citizens on this county. We want to protect it so it will last a whole lot longer.”

“Once we get this caught up, we can maintain it,” Trent added.

The motion was then made to appropriate the funds for Bertie’s share of the Jail repairs and the Commissioners passed unanimously.

Later in that week, Martin County’s Commissioners approved a similar appropriation for their half of the Jail improvements.