The Sampson County Board of Commissioners will further consider various options regarding the purchase of a grit chamber for the Detention Center, needed to address the potential health hazards posed by foreign items being flushed from the jail facility into the local sewage system.
Discussion on the matter — and possible resolutions to it — has been ongoing for quite some time, with county staff initially informed about the situation in early 2011 and problems recurring since 2010.
Public Works director Lee Cannady and engineers with Dewberry gave the board an update on the situation during a recent meeting, saying further direction was sought regarding the maintenance issues at the city’s lift station. Quotes received for a proposed grit chamber to alleviate the problem far exceeded the $80,000 previously placed in reserve by the county.
The cost for the originally proposed grit chamber, which included a grinder and bar screen, is $168,205.40.
During the recent meeting, Dewberry engineers presented a number of options for resolving the sewage issue, including a mechanical bar screen, grinder system, a manual bar screen, septic tank with effluent screens and a basket strainer with plug valve, noting the pros and cons with each system and offering a comparison of estimated costs, personnel needs, potential locations and ongoing maintenance.
Pros and cons weighed various degrees of aesthetics, functionality, odor levels, equipment cost and overall maintenance costs. While many of the various options fell into the range of $50,000-$85,000, the mechanical bar screen far exceeded the cost of the others. The mechanical bar and the grinder also carried average annual maintenance costs of around $1,500-$2,000, while the other options carried $200-$500 costs.
At a planning session a year ago, in February 2011, staff informed the board of problems experienced at the Clinton lift station due to debris flushed in the Detention Center toilets. At that session, staff provided commissioners with illustrations of a grit chamber, screening equipment proposed as a potential solution to the ongoing problem within the sewage system.
Cannady said wrappers, paper towels and other refuse not intended to be discarded through the septic system were being thrown down the toilets and making their way to the lift station. Any kind of foreign matter in the lift station can mean fines and other punishments, and city officials have previously raised concerns of possible violations handed down by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the fines for which would be passed along to the county.
The problem has only increased with the rise in inmates and the availability of canteen services, county officials said.
During last week’s meeting, Sheriff Jimmy Thornton again discussed the requirement to provide canteen services and lack of staffing to monitor and move inmates within building.
He noted that inmates have flushed various items such as Styrofoam, plasticware, chip bags and other snack packaging, as well as other items including mop heads, towels and razors. Thornton said it would be difficult to institute a set of guidelines to specify where and when inmates could eat canteen items as each cell pod has just one officer. That officer would not be able to search every inmate as they returned to their cells, the sheriff said.
Cannady noted the benefits of constructing the grit chamber on a secluded spot on the city’s property, not in front of the Detention Center, and it being operated by city workers who, unlike Sampson County Public Works and Detention Center employees, are trained in the sewer business. He also noted that he had a limited staff of three to maintain 20 buildings.
County manager Ed Causey explained that a memorandum of agreement on the maintenance costs and monthly costs for utilities and water would be necessary between the city and county. That option is still on the table, said Causey, who noted he had been in contact with city manager John Connet.
Causey said having such a filtering device in place should have been standard practice upon the Detention Center’s construction, but was not required for jails at the time so there was no liability on the part of the facility’s contractor.
“At the time when we built the jail, it did not have a grit chamber,” said Causey. “It was just one of those things I assumed it would be (included), whether it was required by the state or not.”
The issue was discussed during budget deliberations last year and the grit chamber, at a cost of $80,000, was subsequently included in the 2011-12 budget. With the initial quote far exceeding that amount, commissioners have gone back to the drawing board to at least further weigh their options.
The full cost of any equipment will come from county coffers. The city has declined to participate in any cost share.
Finance officer David Clack said the previously allocated $80,000 was unspent and could be appropriated from fund balance, and he would recommend the remaining amount be appropriated from the board’s contingency account.
The board directed that the issue be placed on its November agenda, with all the options for consideration.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.