any folks in the business community have some concerns and do not support Platte County’s half cent sales tax increase proposal, which would raise about $65 million, most of which would be spent on a major expansion of the county jail.
Last week came some obvious proof that many in the business community are not embracing the half cent jail tax (don’t get caught up in the county commission’s game of calling it a ‘capital improvements’ tax, let’s call it what it is–it’s a new $65 million half cent sales tax to expand the jail by two or three times what’s there now).
Let’s talk about the reaction the proposal received when the commissioners showed up hoping to get an endorsement from the Platte County Economic Development Council (EDC) public policy committee on Thursday. Two cities–Parkville and Platte City–were also there, looking to get an endorsement for their respective issues on the April ballot. Parkville is proposing a half cent sales tax for parks, Platte City has two ballot issues, one for $3.2 million in general obligation bonds for acquiring, constructing and furnishing facilities and $2.5 million in general obligation bonds for streets/sidewalks/bridges improvements.
At the meeting, a motion was made to endorse the issues of all three entities–the county and both cities. That motion died for lack of a second. Here comes the telling part: The follow-up action was a motion to endorse the ballot issues by Platte City and Parkville. That motion was then approved by the committee, of which about 15 members were present.
Notice the difference? When the jail issue was listed as part of a motion for approval, the motion died for lack of a second. When the jail issue was removed from the equation, the sailing was smooth for Platte City and Parkville.
Clearly the committee had no interest in endorsing the jail tax issue. And that trend continued the next day when the full EDC board of directors declined to even bring the county’s proposal to the table for a vote.
“It was not a knock on the sheriff,” Ed Ford, a member of the EDC public policy committee, an attorney and former city councilman for Kansas City, told me this week “Basically there is some concern with the way the county commission has handled the Zona Rosa bonds. There seems to be a disconnect between going to the voters with a capital project while that bond situation is unresolved.”
As we know, the county commission’s decision not to cover the shortfall in bond payments for Zona Rosa parking garages has tanked the county’s bond rating into junk status. Which makes their subsequent decision to put a jail tax on the ballot right now very strange indeed.
Ford said the EDC group has concerns over the financing end of the county’s proposed jail project. “They would either have to do junk bonds or private financing and it did not appear they have any private financing lined up. And pay as you go, I’m not even sure what that means. . .do you stockpile money for 7-8 years until you have enough to build something? That (the financial piece of it) was the concern of at least some of us.”
We’ve mentioned many times previously in this column space the county commission’s lack of having their details together on the proposed jail project. They haven’t told the public exactly where it would be built on or near the current county footprint, exactly how big it would be, how it would be financed, and whether they plan to expand their jail hotel business beyond 20 or so ICE prisoners they currently have. (Here’s a hint: If they tell you that’s not in the plan, take their verbal answer with a grain of salt. What else are they going to do with so many empty beds?).
Lack of specifics didn’t work in the commission’s favor during the presentation last week to the EDC, some folks in the room told me. While the cities of Parkville and Platte City showed up with printed information detailing their proposals, the county did not offer any written details of their plan. That’s embarrassing in itself.
Commissioners John Elliott and Dagmar Wood were there representing the county commission. Sheriff Mark Owen and Major Erik Holland were also present.
As anyone who has paid attention to these types of things for years is aware, if an economic development group does not openly endorse your tax proposal then you have a very bad plan. There are few groups more friendly to the concept of taxes than EDC type groups. The fact they didn’t want any part of it speaks volumes.
Maybe they don’t want to hurt the commissioners’ feelings. I noticed a couple folks at the EDC are trying to verbally tiptoe around last week’s rejection of the jail tax issue and are trying to frame it as “it wasn’t really an up or down vote on the county’s proposal,” but don’t let them play word games with you. They can say whatever they want but the facts are this: When the county’s proposal was included with Platte City’s and Parkville’s for a vote of endorsement, the motion died for lack of a second. When the county’s issue was removed from the motion, Platte City’s and Parkville’s questions received a thumbs up. That is absolute proof the EDC wanted no part of the county’s boondoggle.
A front page story helps explain the rule change coming in July to Missouri courts, including Platte County, that will quite likely lower the population in the Platte County Jail. Cass County put the rule change into effect ahead of the state, and we’re told the population in the Cass County jail dropped from 180 to 120. That’s a 33 percent drop.
If Platte County experiences a 33 percent drop, based on the jail population last Thursday of 146 prisoners, the number of inmates would drop to 98. If you subtract the ICE inmates, the number of actual county prisoners would drop to about 85. So if the proposal passes the county will have a monstrous facility, with three times more empty beds than occupied ones, and a pile of new debt for taxpayers.
And Platte City will be known as the town with a massive prison in the heart of its downtown.
Enjoy. Or not.
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