Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton said the expansion of the Putnam County Jail and Justice Center is a county decision.
Speaking as part of a Highlands Economic Development Live Event Wednesday, Shelton said the county commissioners do not need the city’s permission to move forward with the expansion.
“Ultimately, it’s not really a City of Cookeville decision, it’s a Putnam County decision,” Shelton said. “The county is a sovereign government. They have the right to do that. They don’t have to to get permission from the city of Cookeville to do that or any other city for that matter, if they chose to to do something in there.”
Shelton said the expansion has been talked about multiple times during joint economic committee meetings that feature leaders from all over the county. Cookeville City Council members Mark Miller and Laurin Wheaton spoke at Monday night’s commissioners meeting questioning the expansion decision. Wheaton said she wanted to see details on the cost estimates of a new site, sites considered, and other information that led to the commissioner’s April decision. Several commissioners received calls from Miller, according to multiple sources, declaring he would lead the city’s efforts to “go nuclear” on the county if the talks moved forward.
With the investment that had already been made downtown, Shelton said he understands why county commissioners want to keep the facility where it is.
“To duplicate that or replicate that somewhere else would be a tremendous tax burden, in my opinion,” Shelton said. “And then the question would be where and where would you ever end up having in your in whatever area that you choose to try to take it to, there’s going to be, I think, extreme opposition to it at this point.”
County Mayor Randy Porter said the latest figures he saw would be a brand new facility in a new location would cost in the range of $130 million.
“Putnam County does not have that kind of bonding capacity without having a big tax increase,” Porter said. “And we didn’t feel like that was what would be best for the taxpayers. We try to be frugal with the taxpayers dollars and this was going to be much, much cheaper to do something here.”
When the facility was built more than 25 years ago, Shelton said it was originally built downtown at the request of Cookeville city leaders.
“I think most people that drive by don’t pay any attention to that’s where the jail is,” Porter said. “It’s a nice building. It looks good. It’s in the downtown. Anything we’re going to do? As far as when I’m county mayor, we’re not to do anything that’s going to go in and destroy or hurt the community.”
Shelton said the city wanted to build the Cookeville Police Department downtown but could not find land.
“We wanted that downtown and I think that’s important,” Shelton said. “You have the courthouse, you have the justice center, you have city hall, the post office, all these things. And so, you know, it’s going to keep downtown vibrant. And I think both those things can can coexist.”