Vot­ers OK two tax in­creases

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

Vot­ers in Franklin County on Tues­day ap­proved two taxes that of­fi­cials pro­posed to pay for build­ing and op­er­at­ing a new 92-bed jail.

With 39 of 39 precincts re­port­ing, the fi­nal but un­of­fi­cial vote to­tal on a 0.375 per­cent sales tax was:

For .......................... 1,346 Against ..................... 658

The fi­nal but un­of­fi­cial vote to­tal on a 0.125 per­cent sales tax was:

For ........................... 1,318 Against ..................... 689

County Judge Rickey Bow­man and Sher­iff An­thony Boen said they were

pleased that the tax pro­pos­als passed and that they passed by such a large mar­gin. Bow­man said he was im­pressed that more than 2,000 peo­ple turned out for the spe­cial elec­tion.

“It’s hard to get ex­cited about pay­ing more taxes, but it was needed and the peo­ple knew it was needed,” Bow­man said.

County of­fi­cials pro­posed the 0.375 per­cent sales tax to pay off cap­i­tal im­prove­ment bonds that would be sold to raise up to $9 mil­lion to build the 92-in­mate-ca­pac­ity jail and sher­iff’s of­fice on county-owned land on Air­port Road near In­ter­state 40 in north Ozark. The tax will ex­pire when the bonds are paid off in about 17 years.

The 0.125 per­cent sales tax pro­posed by the Quo­rum Court will gen­er­ate an es­ti­mated $123,000 a year for the county, which will be used for ad­di­tional op­er­at­ing ex­penses to run the larger jail.

County Clerk DeAnna Sch­malz said 768 votes were cast early in the week be­fore Tues­day’s elec­tion, with 200 on Mon­day alone. She said Franklin County has 9,707 reg­is­tered vot­ers.

The spe­cial elec­tion in Franklin County was one of the first in the state since re­in­state­ment of a law re­quir­ing vot­ers to show iden­ti­fi­ca­tion be­fore be­ing al­lowed to vote. Sch­malz said a few peo­ple com­plained dur­ing early vot­ing about hav­ing to show iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, but only two cast pro­vi­sional votes.

Sch­malz at­trib­uted that high level of com­pli­ance to the wide­spread pub­lic­ity about the law through­out Franklin County. She said she went on the ra­dio to talk about the re­quire­ments of the law, and ar­ti­cles had been pub­lished about it in area news­pa­pers.

With pas­sage of the tax in­creases, county of­fi­cials can re­place the 44-year-old jail that has a ca­pac­ity of 26 pris­on­ers but of­ten holds more than 40.

The 5th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit Crim­i­nal De­ten­tion Fa­cil­i­ties Re­view Com­mit­tee has found that the county jail has vi­o­lated state jail stan­dards for years. In a 2016 in­spec­tion re­port, the com­mis­sion found 14 vi­o­la­tions, among them in­suf­fi­cient jail staffing, in­abil­ity to sep­a­rate in­mates by clas­si­fi­ca­tion, in­suf­fi­cient cell space, and too lit­tle space for se­cu­rity equip­ment and clean­ing sup­plies.

Boen, who gave tours to high­light the jail’s poor con­di­tion lead­ing up to the elec­tion, has said the jail is not safe for pris­on­ers or jail staff mem­bers.

Be­fore Tues­day’s elec­tion, of­fi­cials said that with­out a new jail, the county might have had to con­vert the lockup to a fa­cil­ity that could hold pris­on­ers for only 24 hours. Franklin County would have had to pay an­other county to house its pris­on­ers, and the sher­iff’s of­fice would have had to bear the cost for its in­mates’ med­i­cal needs and of trans­port­ing them back and forth to the county for court. Boen and Bow­man said hav­ing to house county pris­on­ers in an­other county would have cost more than the county could af­ford.

With pas­sage of the tax in­creases, county of­fi­cials can re­place the 44-yearold jail that has a ca­pac­ity of 26 pris­on­ers but of­ten holds more than 40.

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