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Officials mark retiring of debt
Detention center, parking lot paid off
4 Jail Debt pic
Officials burn a copy of the security deed Thursday to celebrate paying off a loan that helped build the jail. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

Dawson County officials marked the final payment on the local jail last week with the age-old tradition of burning the security deed.

The county paid off the jail loan Dec. 3, the same day it also made the final payment on the courthouse parking lot.

Commissioners and county staff joined Sheriff Billy Carlisle on Thursday for a ceremonial fire to watch the deeds go up in smoke.

"We started on this back in the late '90s and it took several years to get everything put together and get to this point today," Carlisle said. "We are very proud of this building. The technology we have in this building has really put us in the top of the line in the state of Georgia and that works well for us."

County Manager Kevin Tanner served as Carlisle's chief deputy when the detention center was built and oversaw the project's construction.

"This has been a long time coming," he said. "I know the sheriff and I started having conversations about the need for a new jail all the way back to the late 1990s, when we were overcrowded and forced to have [housing] help from other counties. And that problem continued to get worse."

The $16 million Dawson County Law Enforcement Center opened Oct. 1, 2007, with capacity to house more than 200 inmates.

Referring to a dedication placard on the front of the detention center, Carlisle asked the crowd gathered for the deed burning to read the names of those involved with the jail project.

"The people's names you see here that sit on the board with us, we traveled all over the state looking at jails," he said. "We took all those ideas we saw at those jails and put them together to work for us."

Construction of the facility was funded primarily from 1-cent sales tax revenue. An increase in buileint costs forced the county to borrow about $6 million to complete the project.

Commissioners voted in November to retire the remaining $4.3 million loan owed on the detention center, which was scheduled to be paid off by December 2020.

With that vote, the commission also agreed to allocate $678,000 to pay off the courthouse parking lot, a debt that otherwise may not have been realized until December 2021.

Commission Chair Mike Berg said paying the loan off early is evidence the county strives to meet its financial obligations without placing additional burden on taxpayers.

"For me and for the board of commissioners, it's a testament to our ability to pay what we say we are going to pay and not incur more financing obligations for the citizens of this county," he said.

"If you think about it, there are a lot of counties that would like to be in the same place we are. ... We build something and we pay for it, and now it's the citizens."

Based on current collections and projections from a sinking investment fund, the county is also on track to have the courthouse and government center paid off in three years.

"If you look further down the road, in 2015, we'll have that courthouse paid for, and we'll be literally out of debt except for a fire truck or two," Berg said. "I don't believe you could find any county in the state that could say that.

"It's positive for our county manager, for our finance department, for all the employees, and for the board to be able to do that."