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'It's time to put up or shut up:' Residents support sales tax for jail

As passionately as some people have spoken out against the half-cent sales tax increase to pay for a new jail, there are people just as passionately supportive of it.

So passionate, in fact, the 30 or so people in attendance at a public forum March 23 sponsored by the county commission passed around a hat to collect money. The money was used to run a counter-advertisement in this newspaper.

For this group of people, the jail issue has dragged on too long and it’s time to correct the situation.

Among them is Bob Maxwell of rural Marion.

“It’s time to put up or shut up,” he said.

As a member of the Eighth Judicial Commission, Maxwell know crime is not going to go away.

“We’re seeing an increase in young adult and juvenile crime,” Maxwell said. “This goes hand-in-hand with adult mischief.

“Crime has risen all over. It’s not going away. The need for a jail is going to be there,” he said.

Jeanice Thomas and Pam Bowers feel so strongly about the jail issue that they organized the Marion County Citizens for Progress committee, using donations to promote their support for a new jail with sales tax revenue.

“My late husband and I had some profound questions about the original jail proposal which we didn’t think the jail committee addressed,” Thomas said. “I’m pleased with the final results by the commission.”

She continued that the proposition on the ballot is reasonable and addresses issues.

“It gives us a responsible way to address the problem,” Thomas said.

She doesn’t like the idea of “going back to the drawing board.”

“The people most against it are the very people who had the biggest opportunity to bring a responsible proposal, in an adult manner, to voters, Thomas said.

Thomas believes there will be a dramatic increase in property taxes if prisoners are transported to other jails on top of proposed increases imposed by state legislators.

“If we vote ‘no,’ a new jail won’t be built,” Bowers said. “We will be forced to upgrade the old jail.”

A new jail will cost $3.5 million while upgrading the current jail could cost $1.5 million. Estimations indicate that only seven prisoners can be housed in the renovated jail so the remainder will have to be transported to other jails at a cost of $350,000 per year. Bowers said it doesn’t make much sense to pay that kind of money to transport when the bond payment of a new jail is only $270,000 per year, which would come from sales tax revenue.

“By not voting ‘yes,’ we will end up spending a lot more money,” Bowers said.

Goessel meeting

At a forum about the county’s jail proposal Monday in Goessel, resident Myron Schmidt said he thought a “no” vote for 0.5 percent sales tax wouldn’t be a vote against a new jail, but a vote for property tax.

“I’m totally against property tax,” Schmidt said.

He said he expected the county would build a jail regardless of whether the sales tax passed, and would instead use property tax.

County Commissioner Dan Holub said using property tax to build a jail wouldn’t be automatic if the sales tax proposal fails. However, the county’s alternatives would also require property tax. Property tax is the only way to fund the transportation of inmates out of county or renovating the existing jail, Holub said.

Commission Chairman Roger Fleming said he didn’t want to increase any tax, but no matter what the county does about the jail, including nothing, it will cost taxpayers money. He said he thought sales tax would be the fairest and would take the least time to pay for the project.

As Goessel Mayor Peggy Jay noted, sales tax also generates revenue from people passing through the county.

Another audience member asked whether house arrest and electronic monitoring could reduce inmate population at the jail. Sheriff Rob Craft said it is difficult to do, because inmates have to pay for such electronic monitoring, and few can afford it. Additionally, many of the inmates at the jail shouldn’t be in the community, Craft said.

“Some of these people absolutely need to be in jail,” he said.

The proposed jail could create some savings on food and laundry, as the proposal includes a kitchen and laundry room, which aren’t included in the current jail. In 2010, the county spent $27,162 on groceries and $4,267 on laundry for inmates.

Not including county personnel, 17 people attended the meeting.

Lincolnville meeting

“I always feel like if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” Gary Diepenbrock said Tuesday in Lincolnville.

He said he had driven by the jail many times and didn’t think it looked bad at all, but when he took a tour of the facility, it was a different story. He said for him the question to be asked wasn’t whether a new jail was needed, but how to pay for it, and he doesn’t favor property tax.

Diepenbrock asked how much it would cost to transport inmates to other counties. Craft said his estimates earlier this year showed more than $300,000, not including start-up costs including vehicles and initial training.

“What he showed Gary about the cost of transporting, that would be pretty stupid,” Tony Hett of Lincolnville said.

Hett said he favors the proposal, but doesn’t think it will pass. He asked how long construction of the proposed facility would take. Architect Andy Pitts said estimated construction time is 14 months.

Diepenbrock asked how the proposed jail’s operating cost would compare to the current jail. Dallke said he estimated the cost would be $50,000 to $60,000 per year more, including salaries to have jailers in the jail 24-7.

Last modified April 1, 2011

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