Jackson Co. asking voters to approve sales tax to expand jail

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Voters will decide the fate next month of a proposed expansion to the Jackson County Detention Center.

County officials will hold a special election on Tuesday, February 12, and they hope that people will approve two sales tax increases to fund the construction and operation of a new jail.

Sheriff David Lucas has helped draft the designs for the new jail that would house at least 100 inmates.

The plans, however, may stay on paper if voters decide to oppose funding the project.

"Should the state close our jail down, which I think is a very high probability, we would have to farm all of our inmates to another facility to another county," Lucas said. "That cost would be astronomical."

The sheriff estimates the cost to house inmates elsewhere would be about $755,000 a year, though the added expense of transportation and necessary medical care would likely raise that total to more than $1 million.

Lucas says the county would be unable to shoulder those costs and predicts they would ruin the county financially.

"It's gotten worse," he said. "The situation has gotten worse. Without this facility [the jail], I could see it bankrupting the county."

The state jail standards board has recently threatened to close the Jackson County Detention Center for overcrowding and other issues.

Officials bought some time to avert closure by presenting the board with plans to construct a new facility. Lucas says the board will come for one final inspection shortly after the special election in February, where their decision to close the jail all hinges upon the election results.

That's why the county officials are now relying on voters for help.

They will put before them two sales tax increases, each valued at three-eighths (0.375 percent) of one cent.

One of the taxes would be placed on the county's books temporarily to pay for the construction of a new jail, which would be built next to the current facility.

The other tax would be permanent and fund the continued operations of a new, larger jail.

Jeff Phillips, the Jackson County judge, says approval of both taxes is crucial.

"There's been instances where the county people voted for the construction but didn't vote for the operation," Phillips said, "and they built it but it had to sit vacant for a couple years until they secured funding for operations. Then, they could open their jail."

A similar proposal failed in Jackson County in 2008, so the sheriff asks people to think about the issue another way.

"This basically equates to about 75 cents on 100 dollars. That's the price of a soda pop," Lucas said. "The way I'm thinking about it is – is the quality of life and the safety and security of my family worth the price of a soda pop?"

Officials would like to discuss the issue and the importance of approval with voters ahead of the election.

They are holding a series of upcoming meetings to do just that across the county. Here are the following dates and times:

Swifton – Jan. 17, 6 p.m. at Swifton Community Building

Amagon – Jan. 18, 6 p.m. at People Helping People Building

Grubbs – Jan . 22, 6 p.m. at Grubbs Community Building

Tuckerman – Jan. 24, 6 p.m. at Tuckerman City Hall

Diaz – Jan. 29, 6 p.m. at Diaz City Hall

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