half cent sales tax to construct a new county jail addition is going on the April 2 ballot.
That decision was finalized by the Platte County Commission at its meeting Tuesday morning.
The tax would run for 6.25 years and would raise an estimated $65 million, John Elliott, second district commissioner, said on a live broadcast of Landmark Live Thursday night on the Platte County Landmark’s Facebook page.
On Thursday night’s show, Elliott said the jail addition would be built on the existing county footprint in downtown Platte City “or close to it.”
On Tuesday after a county commission meeting that took place as The Landmark was heading to press, Elliott said location possibilities include:
1. The previously publicly discussed location on the county’s existing footprint on what is now a parking lot for some officeholders and administrative employees behind (to the north of) the administration building. This location could house a facility that could potentially handle 104 beds on each of three levels, meaning options of 104, 208 and 312 beds can be considered, county officials said.
2. Land to the east of the current county facility. Elliott didn’t get specific but it is publicly known the land to the east of the current facility is a city park/former swimming pool owned by the City of Platte City. A jail built on this site could potentially house 192 beds, Elliott said.
Asked by The Landmark this week if the city had been approached by the county about the former swimming pool property, Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt responded “no comment.”
3. Land to the west of the current facility. That property is currently a parking lot for county employees/officeholders. No number of jail bed options were available from the county for this potential location.
The proposed ballot language reads, “Shall Platte County, Missouri impose a countywide sales tax at the rate of one half of one percent for a period of six and a quarter years from the date on which such tax is first imposed for the purpose of capital improvements, including without limitation the construction of a jail expansion and improvements to the existing jail and other county facilities?”
If approved by voters in April, the sales tax would take effect beginning on Oct. 1, 2019 and run through the end of 2025.
The wording of the tax makes it clear the revenue can be used only for capital improvements. No money from the tax can be used for operation or salaries for deputies, county officials confirmed.
Commissioners say the proposed sales tax “would provide funding to build additional jail space and fund other capital improvements to the existing jail and other facilities.”
It’s not yet clear whether the county will seek to issue bonds to fund the jail construction. Elliott said using bonds would require a second ballot question to be approved by voters at a later date.
The county is waiting until after its court case in the Zona Rosa bond situation concludes before making a decision on whether to seek bond financing, it was indicated at Tuesday’s meeting.
Without a bond issue, the county would build the new jail on a cash basis as funds from the half cent sales tax come in. This would slow down construction of the jail considerably, Elliott acknowledged.
The sales tax would bring in about $11 million per year. Jail construction is currently estimated at anywhere from $40 million to $50 million, depending upon the chosen option.
In a news release issued late last week, Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner said:
“Based on the recent jail study, the county’s growing inmate population will continue to push the current facility beyond its capacity. This commission is committed to solving problems now instead of kicking them down the road.”
Schieber on Tuesday said the county commission would conduct “an education campaign” for the public about the ballot issue. He did not get specific.
David Park, citizen, asked the commission if the commission had considered a lesser amount than half a cent sales tax. Schieber said a 3/8th cent tax wouldn’t provide “for what we need.” Park said the county’s plan remains “ambiguous.”
Commissioners indicate the final design of the jail addition has yet to be decided.
The options being considered provide for a minimum of 192 additional initial beds and the phasing-in of additional cells as needed.
The 192 additional beds added to the 180 existing beds would make for a total jail capacity of around 372.
Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen, in last week’s news release, was quoted as saying: “We have examined the jail needs for several years. The most recent study again highlights the need for the county to start addressing these needs. There are some who would say that removing the 15-18 ICE inmates housed in the jail would solve the problem. This is simply not the case. Based on the most recent jail study, even if ICE inmates were removed it would only provide a band-aid for probably less than two years. The jail study focuses on the space needed to house the inmates we are statutorily required to house.”
Elliott said: “The substantial increase in the number of inmates over the last three years has caused us to have to address this much sooner than we would have liked. Considering that it could take a few years to have new cells available, we would be shirking our responsibilities not to plan accordingly.”
Elliott continued: “This plan is strikingly similar to the one brought to voters 23 years ago. They are both half cent sales taxes, one being 6 years and the other 6-1/4 years. The major difference is that the funding 23 years ago only provided for a 154 bed jail. This proposal addresses needed jail space, current jail repairs, prosecutor space, court space, evidence and equipment space and repairs to the courthouse, administration building and Platte County Resource Center.”
Commissioner Dagmar Wood, in the news release is quoted as saying: “We considered a dozen different inmate housing options, including delaying funding to keep our tax structure as flat as possible. Our goal is to balance timing with construction costs, financing costs, and capacity lifespan, in order to draft a plan that makes the most financial sense. And we will work hard to make the design as efficient as possible to keep ongoing operational costs down.”
Schieber added, “We had planned on addressing the county’s jail needs later with the rest of our sunsetting tax structure but unfortunately the need reached critical mass earlier than we had anticipated. Our county will be better by addressing our issues impacting core functions with long-term solutions.”
Owen said: “The sheriff’s office has prided itself on running a safe, clean and efficient jail. We take our duty to protect the interests of taxpayers and to care for those we are charged with housing seriously. We have examined numerous alternatives and they do not address the current and long term needs in a fiscally responsible manner. The need for expansion and maintenance of the current facility is clear.”