Davie Greer doesn’t look like someone who should know much about jails.

But the grandmother and Barren County judge-executive thinks about her jail “all the time.” The state has said she may have to close it in 30 days if the county doesn’t correct ventilation problems – and that’s just the first item on a laundry list of problems at the jail built in the mid-1970s and expanded in the late 1990s.

A recent state inspection found the smoke evacuation system “very weak” in the new section and “it flat failed in the older part.”

“They told us it would take $2 million to fix it, and between $4 and $5 million to renovate the whole jail,” she said Wednesday while attending the Kentucky Association of Counties convention in Lexington. She thinks the county can construct a new one for maybe as little as $7.5 million.

But some of her magistrates are wary. They recall the expansion taken in the late 1990s when the state promised to put juveniles in the new section, which architects said at the time would pay for the expansion. But not long after it was completed, the state constructed regional juvenile detention centers and that money disappeared.

Greer isn’t alone in her anxieties over county jails. Carter County Judge-Executive Charles Wallace said his county has allocated $1 million this year from its general fund to subsidize the 160-bed facility which Tuesday had 210 inmates housed there.

And unlike some county jails, Carter County’s doesn’t rely on lots of state inmates and the state’s per diem payment. But he wants the state to pay for the time state inmates are housed in his jail while awaiting trial and sentencing, something 110 counties and the Kentucky Judge-Executives Association have sued the state trying to collect.

The suit wants the state to pay for “credit for time served” for inmates who are often credited with the time in county jails before sentencing against the entire sentence. The state receives the benefit of that time for its inmates but the counties bear all the costs of housing them, they contend.

“Last year alone,” Wallace said, “the credit for time served would’ve been $300,000 in my county.”

That suit was the first topic Wednesday morning. Vince Lang, executive director of the Kentucky County Judge-Executives Association (KCJEA), fielded several questions from them about the suit.

One question was whether lawmakers might punish counties who signed onto the suit.

“So far, I haven’t heard anyone that’s said they’re going to hold it over us,” Lang said, adding he wanted to hear what judges had heard from their local lawmakers.

Wallace said he hasn’t heard any fallout from Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, or Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Grayson, whose districts include Carter County.

“Neither one of them has said a thing to me,” Wallace said. But that doesn’t mean they’ve shared good news with him, either.

“They say there’s no money,” Wallace said, shaking his head. “They said they might be looking at a higher cigarette tax, but they don’t know.”

But the state is facing at least a $300 million revenue shortfall and Gov. Steve Beshear basically told those who gathered for the KACo general session that he doesn’t know when the state might be able to help with jails.

That’s why they sued, according to Larue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner. And his lawmakers haven’t complained either, he said.

“They haven’t said a word,” Turner said. “Most legislators I’ve talked to have said let’s get an answer to this.”

Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry Berry said lawmakers usually express sympathy for the counties’ jails problems – they just don’t do anything to help.

“Individually, they’re sympathetic, but collectively they won’t do anything,” Berry said.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. He can be reached by e-mail at rellis@cnhi.com.

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