A discussion of replacing toilets at the city jail took an unexpected direction at Monday's Roanoke City Council meeting, and it may lead to a major change in the way the city handles its inmates.
Roanoke Police Chief Jonathan Caldwell, for the second straight week, reminded the council that two of the jail's toilets - one in the male isolation cell and one in the female isolation cell - are no longer working and are unusable.
The estimated cost for replacing those toilets, which are actually an all-in-one that includes a sink and a water fountain for the cell, is $2,500 apiece.
That hefty price tag led Councilmember Mike Parmer to inquire whether it would be more cost effective for Roanoke to simply use the county jail and cease jailing operations at the Roanoke facility.
The city does not have a full-time jailer, leaving inmates under the supervision of dispatchers who remain at police headquarters.
Caldwell estimated it costs between $12 and $15 per day just to feed inmates at the city jail, while the towns of Wadley and Wedowee pay the county $20 per inmate, per day to house their inmates.
Caldwell said he had spoken recently to Sheriff David Cofield, who told Caldwell the county is considering raising that rate.
The toilets are not the only issue with the Roanoke facility, which was built in 2006. The building has an ongoing mold problem that has yet to be fully eradicated, and the air conditioning in the female holding cell no longer works.
Caldwell said an arrangement with the county would save time for Roanoke officers, despite the drive back and forth to Wedowee. Roanoke officers often spend an hour or more completing the booking process at the station after an arrest. Should the city strike a deal with county, that processing time would be reduced to a few minutes, as the responsibilities for booking would fall on the county officers.