Fort Mill Times

The Herald: York County needs new jail at different site

A new York County jail in the eastern part of the county would be a welcome and much-needed addition. But we hope the county can find a better site for it than just across from the Riverwalk development.

The items that might be included on a proposed $60 million bond package being considered by the county council have not been specified. But council members suggest that a new jail near Rock Hill and expansion of existing law enforcement facilities are likely to be on the list.

The council has given its initial approval to a referendum through which voters would decide in November whether to borrow up to $60 million. Although the projects haven’t been nailed down, the council voted on the referendum to meet legal deadlines for getting the measure on the November ballot.

We can’t endorse the bond package until we know what will be included. But the county has needed an eastern booking and detention center for years.

As Sheriff Bruce Bryant notes, when a deputy arrests a suspect in the Fort Mill area, he can lose up to three hours of patrol time by having to drive 15 to 20 miles to Moss Justice Center in York, book the suspect and drive back. A new jail near Rock Hill would allow deputies to book suspects there and hold them for up to 48 hours without making the trip back and forth to York.

Early speculation among some councilmen is that the county is considering a site along Cherry Road between the Rock Hill city limits and the Catawba River for the new jail. That would put the jail directly across Cherry Road from Riverwalk – nearly 1,000 acres of mixed-use development with an investment estimated at $600 million, including $50 million from the city.

Riverwalk is the site of the Giordiana Velodrome and a BMX bicycle racing course due for completion next month. Together, they comprise an Olympic quality cycling center, one of the few on the East Coast.

When completed, Riverwalk also is expected to contain a variety of shops, residential properties, office space and other amenities.

We understand the desire to build the booking center at a site that is convenient to Fort Mill and Interstate 77. But we don’t think a jail is appropriate right at the entrance to one of Rock Hill’s most ambitious development projects in its history.

With all the other options, why risk detracting from the Riverwalk, designed to attract thousands of shoppers, cycling fans, nature lovers and residents of homes within the development each year? Surely the county can find a better site that won’t conflict with any nearby buildings.

Again, though, we think the new jail – as well as an expansion of Moss Justice Center and improvements to court facilities across the county – are vitally needed.

The last time voters had a chance to approve those projects was in a countywide bond referendum in 2006. But that bond package, sold as one that offered something for every part of the county, was overloaded with other projects, such as libraries, customer service centers, a recycling center and cultural venues.

Voters rejected it by a 2-to-1 margin.

The cost of the package the county is considering now won’t exceed $60 million and could be less, according to county officials. And, we hope, it will focus on crucial needs only, not frills.

We think the council is prudent in giving early initial approval to the referendum to ensure it can be on the ballot in November. We look forward to seeing the list of projects that will be included in the package.