ERWIN — Flooding and leaking at the Unicoi County Jail could eventually result in the relocation of the county’s emergency dispatch center, a matter that was discussed by members of the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board of Directors at a Friday afternoon meeting.
Concerns regarding flooding and leaking at the Unicoi County Jail were voiced by Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley at a emergency communications district board meeting held earlier this month. Hensley said the roof of the jail, which is located directly above the county’s 911 dispatcher center and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, is experiencing leaking and flooding caused by inmates stopping up drains and commodes. This has caused water to find its way to the offices below.
These concerns come as the county is preparing to upgrade its current emergency dispatch equipment to comply with mandates. Ed Herndon, the county’s emergency management director, said earlier this month the new equipment could possibly arrive as early as October. However, Hensley said the water leaking from the jail could affect the new equipment in the dispatch center.
Hensley said Friday that representatives from the engineering firm Tysinger, Hampton and Partners were on site at the jail last week to assess the leaking. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said a specialist in jail facilities joined the engineers to look at the issue and that he expects the county to soon receive a letter advising them on what action officials could consider taking. But Lynch said the jail specialist has already indicated the direction officials should be looking.
“Just in talking to him, I think he’s going to advise us to move 911 equipment out of there,” Lynch said.
Hensley said he would favor fixing the leaking if it can be done affordably, but said if it cannot, he would have to look at possibly moving his staff out of the building along with the 911 center.
Herndon said if the dispatch center is moved to a location where it is not able to utilize the generator and communications tower at its current location, it could lead to additional costs. Herndon said the state 911 board originally installed the generator, which cost $110,000, and that the cost of a new tower would be around $50,000.
Board Chair Bill Hensley asked board members present to think of options that may be available and that he wants to see the Unicoi County Commission discuss the issue at its regular October meeting. He said the best option would be a facility close to the 911 center’s current location so that the generator and tower already in place could still be utilized.
“I think we could do that if we rack our brains a little bit,” he said.
The sheriff said he feels officials need to look for a substantial building that would prove to be cost-effective in the future.
“The bottom line, me think of the best interests of 911 and the county, we’re going to have to find a building, and the closer the building to this courthouse is going to be the best option,” he said.
Members of the board present also unanimously approved a bid from Appalachian CPA’s to serve as the auditor for the finances of the county’s 911 service. The firm submitted the lowest of three bids submitted and, per the bid, will serve as the 911 auditor for three years at $15,000.