Despite the freezing temperatures and blustery wind, a large crowd gathered at the Sharp County Detention Center Jan. 8 for the grand opening ceremony and to tour the new facility.
The ceremony opened with a welcome from Sharp County Judge Gene Moore, “I appreciate everyone for coming out,” Moore said.
After offering a prayer over the facility and community, Moore said he had prepared a speech but had opted to shorten it due to the frigid temperatures.
“We are excited about this new detention center. The citizens and everyone got together and realized we needed something better. They went out and did what it took. We had a lot of help from a lot of good people,” Moore said. “God bless you, thank you for coming out and God bless this country.”
Sharp County Sheriff Mark Counts was next to speak, reiterating the sentiments of Moore, Counts thanked the citizens and taxpayers, quorum court members and others who had worked to make the dream of a new detention center for the county a reality.
He then introduced Public Safety Director for the State of Arkansas Jami Cook, who proceeded to read a letter sent by Governor Asa Hutchinson.
“Dear Sharp County Sheriff's Office on behalf of the State of Arkansas, I would like to congratulate you on the grand opening of the new Sharp County Detention Center. This expanded facility will provide a safe environment for your inmates and staff and will allow you to serve Sharp County more effectively. The Sharp County Detention Center also demonstrates your responsible stewardship as you completed this important project $1.8 million under budget...,” Cook said.
Following the reading of the letter, Counts approached the podium a second time to introduce Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
“It is good to be with you on this beautiful yet chili Friday and to be celebrating the opening of this detention center...,” Rutledge said. “Congratulations judge, sheriff, quorum court but really to the citizens of Sharp County for supporting law enforcement, the rule of law and for ensuring that those who do commit acts against others or their property are held accountable and that we have a safe and secure place where we can teach them right from wrong, to rehabilitate them and to get them back out to be productive members of society.”
She also spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges faced by law enforcement and more.
“I know every one of us would rather worry about there being enough room in the pews on Sunday morning that the space in a jailhouse on Saturday night. But until we get that turned around and get more people focused that way, we're going to need this. So thank you to the citizens of Sharp County for supporting this,” Rutledge said.
Counts then returned to the podium to introduce the final speaker for the ceremony, Cody Hiland the former U.S. Attorney for the State of Arkansas.
“I am painfully aware of my wife's last words to me as I left the house this morning which were 'you need to take a bigger coat',” Hiland said jokingly as he prepared his thoughts to share with the audience. “We talk about in government, law enforcement and public safety being the government's number one priority, but the reality is we don't budget that way. To have a facility like this that is dedicated to public safety, it is a commitment to your community and I want to say thank you.”
Hiland also spoke about the challenges faced by law enforcement with regard to public and governmental support. Noting it seemed they were routinely being asked to do more with less in certain areas of the country.
“I still believe in American exceptionalism. I believe that because I believe our people are exceptional and even more importantly, the ideals we embrace are exceptional. We're the only country that was founded on an idea and that idea is liberty and freedom. The genius of this nation is, we trust the people...Liberty is the essential value for the American people,” Hiland said.
He expanded on his thoughts by touching on the subject of economic growth and development taking place in Sharp County.
We all have a responsibility to defend liberty but it takes effort. Today Doug [Smith] was telling me about 300 new jobs coming in with Emerson and Renee Clay-Circle bringing in 20 new jobs. There is real momentum in Sharp County as it relates to economic development. Things that will make life better, but you can't have economic development without the umbrella of protection provided by public safety.”
After sharing his final thoughts for the day with regards to the Sharp County Detention Center, Hiland gave one final thanks to the taxpayers and citizens for their support of the detention center.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held by the Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce to signify the grand opening and the facility was then opened for tours to the public.
The discussion to construct a new Sharp County Detention Center had been ongoing for many years but became imperative in 2018 after the State Jail Standards Board stated in no uncertain terms the old jail would be forced to close if the county did not take action toward finding a solution to outdated technology and routine overpopulation of the jail.
Although the county had sought out solutions in the past, such as exploring the possibility of adding a 24-bed addition to the old jail, the reality was the existing 36-bed facility was approaching it's 40th anniversary and would not stand the test of time.
Following a vote of the people in 2018, the majority of citizens were in favor of the construction of a new facility. By passing two tax increases, the first, a one-quarter cent, which would remain on the books for life and the second, a half cent tax, which would sunset once the bonds were paid for the facility.
Although construction had not yet begun, the county was able to make several additional payments the first year into the project.
The new detention center, slated to be put into use Jan. 11, came in more than $1.8 million under budget, expediting the process of paying off the bonds for the new facility.