Franklin County vote on jail taxes to be­gin

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE HUGHES

Franklin County of­fi­cials face the task of per­suad­ing vot­ers to ap­prove two new taxes, and of­fi­cials say if the county can’t build and op­er­ate a new jail, the al­ter­na­tive could bank­rupt the county.

“Peo­ple are sick of taxes,” Sher­iff An­thony Boen said. “But I hope peo­ple re­al­ize it’s a ne­ces­sity.”

Early vot­ing be­gins Tues­day in Franklin County’s spe­cial Aug. 8 elec­tion. On the bal­lot are two pro­posed sales taxes to­tal­ing 0.5 per­cent to build and op­er­ate a new county jail.

Res­i­dents can vote early from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tues­day through Aug. 7 at the court­houses at Ozark and Charleston, ac­cord­ing to the county clerk’s of­fice. The court­houses are closed on week­ends.

Vot­ers will be asked to de­cide on a 0.375 per­cent sales tax to pay off cap­i­tal im­prove­ment bonds that would be sold to raise up to $9 mil­lion to build a 92-per­son-ca­pac­ity jail and sher­iff’s of­fice on county-owned land on Air­port Road near In­ter­state 40 in north Ozark.

The bonds, au­tho­rized un­der Amend­ment 62 of the Arkansas Con­sti­tu­tion, would be sold to in­vestors who would profit from the in­ter­est earned over time on the bonds. The county would ben­e­fit by us­ing the money from the sale of the bonds to pay for build­ing the jail.

The es­ti­mated $648,000 the sales tax would gen­er­ate each year would be used to pay off the bonds and in­ter­est over about 17 years. Once the bonds are paid off, the tax would ex­pire.

Vot­ers also will be asked to pass a 0.125 per­cent sales tax that would gen­er­ate an es­ti­mated $216,000 a year. That tax would be per­ma­nent.

The money from that tax would be used to pay for op­er­at­ing the larger jail, along with the $675,000 the county al­ready spends on jail op­er­a­tion.

If ap­proved, col­lec­tion of the taxes would be­gin Jan. 1.

To con­vince vot­ers of the need, Boen has con­ducted tours of the county’s un­der­sized and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing

44-year-old jail that has been de­scribed as a safety haz­ard to pris­on­ers and jail staff mem­bers. He said one woman on a tour fled from the jail in tears af­ter see­ing the women’s sec­tion that was built for six in­mates but held 15 on the day she was there.

Boen and County Judge Rickey Bow­man have spo­ken to civic groups, at cham­bers of com­merce and se­nior-ci­ti­zen cen­ters, an­swer­ing ques­tions and dis­tribut­ing an in­for­ma­tional brochure about the jail project.

The jail has been in vi­o­la­tion of state stan­dards for years, and the 5th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit’s Crim­i­nal De­ten­tion Fa­cil­i­ties Re­view Com­mit­tee could or­der the county to close the lockup if it doesn’t take steps to re­solve the prob­lems.

“Peo­ple need to un­der­stand that we will be in a fine pickle if we don’t get this taken care of,” Bow­man said.

The cur­rent county jail could re­vert to be­ing a lockup that can hold pris­on­ers for only 24 hours be­fore they would have to be trans­ferred to a jail in an­other county. Boen said jails in all of the sur­round­ing coun­ties are full.

Of­fi­cials have said con­tract­ing with an­other county or coun­ties to hold Franklin County’s pris­on­ers could cost the county $700,000 to $1 mil­lion a year. That cost doesn’t in­clude trans­port­ing pris­on­ers to and from court and the med­i­cal ex­penses the county would have to pay for its pris­on­ers.

Bow­man said the county could not han­dle the ex­pense.

City po­lice de­part­ments in the county, among them Ozark and Charleston, would be in the same sit­u­a­tion. They no longer would have the county jail to hold their pris­on­ers and would have to find jail space in other coun­ties.

Op­po­nents say pas­sage of the taxes would make the county’s sales tax rate the high­est in the area, rais­ing the sales tax rate in Ozark to 10.5 per­cent. Some also op­pose pay­ing higher taxes to take care of pris­on­ers who are not con­tribut­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.

With the cur­rent jail, there is not enough room to hold all those who need to be in jail, Boen said, mean­ing he has to de­cide who to hold and who to let loose.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.