Webster parish police jury discussing selling penal farm

The Webster Parish Police Jury is considering selling the penal farm.

In a committee meeting Tuesday, jurors discussed what to do with the property that has sat vacant since the opening of Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center at Camp Minden. Juror Daniel Thomas says holding on to the property is a disservice to the parish taxpayers.

“I can’t see how we’re taking care of the taxpayer by keeping something that is like this,” he said.

“It looks like to me we ought to really go over our property, whether it’s fix this courthouse or fix roads and streets. I just can’t see holding on to something; I don’t think we’re doing the taxpayer right.”

While he liked the idea of the old penal farm system where inmates worked the land and farmed, it isn’t practical, he said.

“The problem is the federal laws have changed so much, that it basically made the jury violate laws to keep anyone there,” he said. “We didn’t change, the laws changed.”

Jury president Jim Bonsall says the time to take care of it is now. The jury will never be able to renovate it to bring it up to code, he said, adding that it was grandfathered in as long as it was open. Now that it’s been closed for so long, it would cost more money to renovate it than it would be to raze it and build a new structure.

Charlie Odom made a motion, seconded by juror Bruce Blanton, to separate the house plus one and a half acres plus easement from the penal farm property and notify the tenant in the house of the jury’s intent. The buildings and grounds committee will work towards this end.

Thomas told jurors the property needed to be surveyed and platted in order to have a “good, clean transaction.” Also up for discussion was proximity between the house and the prison. The idea, Odom and others say, is to document that easement so that when the property is sold, there is no question that it is an easement. It was even suggested turning the easement into a road that connects with Penal Farm Road so that both property owners won’t have to use the same easement.

The police jury will bring this up for discussion again at the next committee meeting, which will be at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6.

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