Crime getting more expensive

First Posted: 7/22/2014

The day will come that Robeson County is forced to build a jail that might cost as much as $50 million, but before that happens, it appears that a $1 million Band-Aid will have to be placed on the head of the current facility.

Ouch if you pay property taxes in this county because, sooner or later, you are going to get stuck with that bill.

The county Board of Commissioners on Monday night heard a report about the need to replace the roof on the 25-year-old facility, which was built with a 20-year roof. The commissioners were told that during a recent rain inmates were flushed from regular cells because of the leaky roof and placed in holding cells.

We know some readers will have little sympathy for the inmates, saying it’s their own fault they are in jail. That ignores two realities: Some of the inmates at the county jail have not been convicted of any crime, and the county risks the expensive lawsuits if it is idle as inmates and employees are exposed to mold.

The county has floated the idea of building a new jail, saying that a mandate from the state is inevitable because the current facility is in poor condition and is chronically crowded. The cost, projected at about $44 million, will only grow before ground is broken.

The problem is Robeson County doesn’t have the money — and is limited in its options on how it would pay for a jail. Legislation that is pending in the General Assembly limits sales tax options both in how much money can be raised, and how that money could be spent. The bill would allow a sales tax increase approved through a referendum to be used only for public education or transportation — and not for a jail.

Of immediate concern is the leaky roof. County officials will have no choice but to repair the roof, which will buy them time before a new jail is built, perhaps a couple or three years from now. The shame is that the $1 million or so for the new roof will be money thrown away as the current jail, once abandoned, will have a nice new roof by little practical use.

Property owners in this county, already burdened with a tax rate among the top 25 percent in the state, will have to dig even deeper. We know there will be some fist shaking at our commissioners when the tax rate goes up, probably in 2015 as commissioners don’t face re-election next year. But this isn’t the commissioners’ doing.

This county’s high crime rate costs us in many ways, some obvious, the cost of law enforcement, the cost of prosecuting and then incarcerating criminals, the damage to personal property, and some less obvious, including the difficulty in recruiting jobs and professional people to live here.

Put a new jail roof on top of that sad stack.