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TEXARKANA, Ark. — With the Miller County Correctional building presently holding upwards of 320 inmates in a lock-up designed to hold 285 prisoners at max, county officials are looking at adding another 100 jail beds.

Quorum Court members recently met with Jim Langford, lead architect for the Collierville, Tennessee-based SouthBuild Architect Team, to listen to plans for expanding the 20-year-old jail by adding at least another pod to hold at least 100 more inmates.

Besides more inmate holding room, Langford said the jail will also need electronic security systems updating to a more modern digital system. Both the expansion and digital updating projects are estimated to cost between $6.5 million to $7.5 million.

Miller County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Mark Lewis said most of the inmate increase consist primarily of medium risk and low risk inmates not high risk.

Langford said a new pod would likely have to be built on the detention center's southwest side — where there is more expansion room.

Apart from the remote possibility of federal financial aid to help build the additional pod, Quorum Court member agreed the issue could be left up to the county's residents in the form of a limited one-quarter-cent sales tax election.

"We've got to make sure this is done right, because it looks like we can't do it without the support of the public," said Miller County Justice of the Peace John Haltom. " We are at a very crucial point right now."

Langford agreed.

"We are looking, at the very least, at a year out, before we get this done, because we need public approval," he said.

Back in 2000, county voters approved a half-cent sales tax with a quarter of the tax running as a permanent tax to maintain the current jail, while the other quarter-cent portion of that sales tax was limited to just paying off the jail's construction.

The quarter-cent sales tax for construction was temporary. it was retired when the jail, built on U.S. Highway 71 south of Texarkana, was paid off.

Miller County Sheriff Jackie Runion agreed with Haltom.

"If we ask for another sales tax election, we are going to have to make sure this tax is a temporary tax, one which will only go to pay for jail's expansion and security updating, and that's it," he said.

Miller County Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Ernest Pender said convincing residents of the need for jail expansion may not be too difficult considering what is currently happening at the national level.

"It might be an easier sell to the public because they are keenly aware of the crime rate around the nation," he said.

(Look for expanded coverage on Miller County Detention Center needs over the weekend.)

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