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Heated discussion regarding future of Escambia County Jail

ESCAMBIA COUNTY   --  The Escambia County Commission could decide this evening whether to take over running the county jail.
   
Commissioners are also figuring how to solve some expensive problems at the county jail after a Justice Department report said conditions there are violent and appalling.

Last week Sheriff David Morgan said he would give commissioners the keys to the jail in September. They're meeting tonight and discussing the possibility of taking the jail over.

A lot is at stake in the meetings county leaders have been holding today.
At times things got heated between the commissioners and Sheriff Morgan.

Gene Valentino, Chair, Escambia County Commission: "I say let me have a chance to speak!"

Sheriff David Morgan, Escambia County: "If you'd like to get off the politics, Mr. Touart, I will address your specific issues."
   
The sheriff says he wants the commission to run the jail because he feels the county is not negotiating in good faith over how to fix the problems cited in the Justice Department report.
   
And he says commissioners are not giving him what he needs to get the job done.
Sheriff David Morgan, Escambia County: "Anyone here on the board want to deny that the Sheriff was asked to reduce his budget each and every year. And my budget is $2.6 million less than it was when I took office."
   
The sheriff said he could continue running the jail while addressing its problems for the next year with a budget increase of 5.2 million dollars mainly to hire more deputies.
   
County Administrator George Touart says that price tag would require a tax increase.
He says the commission can run the jail with about half as much of a budget increase and no tax hikes.
   
Under Touart's plan, though, county workers, would see a planned 3 % pay increase reduced or cut outright.
   
Voters have mixed feelings on the situation.
Mary Gates, Voter: "The county commissioners, they more like a bunch of desk people. They just sit back and decide well we gonna do this and we gonna do that.  Not really knowin' what's goin' on."

Richard Holbrook, Voter: I wouldn't like to see taxes raised that's for sure. So, probably going with the county commissions. The sheriff's idea of double that doesn't seem very right."
   
Commissioners are also considering sending a letter to the Justice Department asking for more time to address the findings in its report.
   
The current deadline is July 10th.
Commissioners say their plan to fix the jail will likely be a five year solution that's implemented gradually.