FARMINGTON — Commissioner Gary McGrane accused other county officials Tuesday of wasting money and ignoring the will of voters after they backed a plan to build a new emergency 911dispatch center for Franklin County.

McGrane made the charges at Tuesday’s commission meeting after the other two Franklin County commissioners voted to bring the roughly $620,000 project before voters. He voted against the motion that passed 2-1, sending the issue to county voters some time next year, most likely in June.

McGrane, of Jay, then noted how voters already rejected a $4.46 million plan to relocate most county offices and build a new dispatch center. That plan failed 7,783-4,938.

Before the vote Tuesday, Commissioner Clyde Barker and Commissioner Fred Hardy defended the plan as the best way to avoid spending more money in the future while addressing space shortages in the dispatch center.

The dispatch center, which shares space with the Franklin County sheriff’s department, has been the topic of lengthy debate over space shortages in county government offices.

After voters rejected the initial plan, the commissioners, including McGrane, voted to form a building committee to devise the plan that will go before voters.

McGrane decided, instead, to promote an alternative plan to renovate space in the county-owned jail building to house the dispatch center. He said his plan could have saved nearly $300,000 based on an architectural firm’s cost estimate presented at the meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The jail became a 72-hour holding facility when the state Legislature consolidated jails statewide, leaving the Franklin County jail building underutilized and making it the most logical option for relocating the dispatch center, McGrane said, attempting to persuade the other commissioners before the vote.

Barker, of Strong, said that moving the dispatch center into the jail could cost a lot more money over time, by limiting the ability to adapt to future growth and possible changes in how the state handles jails.

The state could decide to return responsibility for certain inmates back to the county level, forcing Franklin County to pay extra money to send more inmates to other jails, Barker said.

The jail is also seeking to incorporate pre-release work programs for inmates, and that program would need the space that was being considered for the dispatch center, he said.

Hardy, of New Sharon, also argued that the pre-release program is a better alternative use for the space in the jail. The program saves municipalities, including the county, somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000 in labor costs by deploying inmates for public works’ projects, he said.

“My biggest concern is that by doing this we will eliminate any chances at the pre-release (program),” Hardy said.

McGrane countered that there are many uncertainties tied to the other commissioners’ arguments, which are based on state lawmakers making changes or approving new programs.

“It’s the best plan that we have going at this time,” he said of his proposal.

The plan to build a new dispatch center received unanimous support from the county budget committee as well as the building committee, which consists of county officials and several community members who represent local public safety departments.

Commissioners and the budget committee participate in a shared approval process for the county’s budget, but the commissioners have the authority to seek a referendum vote when public money is involved.

John Calloway, the budget committee chairman, said at the meeting Tuesday that McGrane’s plan would only save $200,000, after accounting for additional project costs not included in the estimate.

Calloway said his committee looked at the jail as an option. They supported building the new dispatch center because it saved money over time, along with other benefits tied to less space being available in the jail building, he said.

Before the new dispatch center project is presented to voters, the two county committees will work on trimming some costs from the plan by reviewing more details with an architectural firm, according to Calloway and other members at the meeting.

Calloway is confident the project’s final cost will be less than $600,000 after the review, he said while leaving the meeting.

There will be public hearings set in the coming months to present the plan before a date is scheduled for the public vote.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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