The City Council approved a request for bids on the project, which is expected to cost up to $800,000.
The improvements will be paid for with funds obtained through the federal “asset forfeiture program.”
Under this program, police can legally seize a person’s property if it is believed to be connected to possible illegal activity, even if no actual crime has taken place.
Georgia law allows law enforcement agencies to sell the proceeds of these seized assets and keep the profits. A criminal conviction of the person whose property was seized is not required for law enforcement to obtain these assets, according to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and the program has come under intense criticism from civil liberties watchdog groups.
Though the regulation of these funds has been a topic of controversy statewide with many agencies failing to accurately report these funds or properly account for the way the funds are spent, Kennesaw leaders and Police Chief Bill Westenberger say they take pride in being both accurate and transparent about how this money is reported and spent in their city.
“We do use (the funds) for law enforcement purposes only,” Westenberger said, adding that the fund is audited separately from the city’s general fund each year.
In the past, Westenberger said the money has been used to purchase police vehicles, weapons, training and equipment, and to cover the costs of police department accreditation.
“We’re required to stay within the guidelines set by the federal government to make sure it doesn’t turn into some level of a slush fund,” he said. “It can’t be dipped into for other projects.”
The total cash balance of the federal asset forfeiture fund is $868,427. Total funds spent in fiscal 2013 were $279,192.46.
Westenberger said the jail renovation has taken about a year-and-a-half to plan, with the biggest focus on being financially efficient and securing an engineering firm familiar with the specifications needed for a jail to avoid running into additional expenses.
“We want to make sure we’re running a safe, effective and efficient operation,” he said.
Councilman Bruce Jenkins said he appreciated the project wouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars and would get the city up to speed with other municipalities.
“It’s good to see this effort to maintain security and maintain an ethical approach to house prisoners in a good, humane format,” Jenkins said. “We’re just trying to bring things up to code. It’s due to the great work of Police Chief Bill Westenberger. He’s done an awesome job on this project.”
Improvements include, but are not limited to, the replacement of the HVAC system and a security control electric panel, improvements to inmate showers and laundry facilities, paint for the jail and kitchen, a replacement generator to support the computer systems, secure fencing around the parking lot, parking lot improvements and replacement storm drains.
The total projected cost to complete the renovations is $797,467 and will be managed by Eric Flynn of Marietta-based Croy Engineering. Westenberger said he’s hoping to begin the project by the end of summer and finish in late fall.
“It’s a very aged facility,” Westenberger said. “We’ve got to make some improvements to the electrical, plumbing, floor, ceiling, lighting and HVAC. We’re also going to make some security improvements to the exterior to include fencing and adding storage space.”
Westenberger said one of the “big ticket” items is a new 21-inch touch-screen security control panel that locks jail cell doors and a replacement generator that would be able to provide power in case of a power outage.
Lt. John Grubbs, jail administrator, said the control panel can vary greatly in cost, but he’s hoping to purchase one for about $75,000, as some models can go up to $125,000.
Westenberger said the maximum holding capacity of the jail is 30 inmates, and that number won’t increase after the renovations.
“The walls in existence will be the same walls when the project is complete, it’s just some very expensive electrical work,” he said. “We’re focused on providing a safe and secure environment for both the employees and the inmates.”
On average, the Kennesaw jail holds about 23 inmates on any given day, Westenberger said. During the construction, inmates will be held in Acworth’s jail as part of an agreement between the two cities pending approval by Kennesaw City Council.
“We haven’t yet worked out the details, but a process will be in place so while the disruption is going on here, there will be a place to house the inmates up there (in Acworth),” he said.
Grubbs said about half of his staff of 13 will remain in Kennesaw during the construction with the remaining staff members working out of the Acworth jail.
“I don’t see there being any issues with it,” Grubbs said of working with the neighboring city. “We’ve always worked well with Acworth.”