Leader Blues

Saturday, September 09, 2006

TOP STORY>>Funding issue to be decided by electorate on Tuesday

IN SHORT: Sales tax increase to be used only for construction and operation of Pulaski County Jail.

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Local and county officials say that the proposed quarter-percent sales and use tax on Tuesday’s special ballot will be used only for construction and operation of the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility.

The proposal, if approved, will increase the sales and use tax in Pulaski County by one-quarter of a cent on each dollar of goods or services purchased. This equals one cent on a $4 purchase; 25 cents on a $100 purchase; and is capped at a maximum of $6.25 on a purchase of $2,500 or more.

Jacksonville Police Chief Robert Baker and John Rehrauer, public information officer with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, said the tax will be collected on purchases in the first quarter of next year, but a significant amount would not be available until the second quarter of the year.

Ron Quillin, director of administrative services for Pulaski County Administration, explain-ed that the tax distribution is received a month after it is collected.

Therefore, revenue from the sales and use tax for the first three months of 2007, if started Jan. 1, would only show two months of collection come March.

“For the first quarter of the year, they will see two months of collections instead of three,” Quillin said.
If the proposal is passed next week, Rehrauer said they would immediately work to open the 250-bed work release center and have it open, hopefully, by the first of the year.

According to Rehrauer, the county would also begin a retaining effort for detention officers for the center immediately.
The work-release center would give a “temporary relief” to the detention facility, at least until it gets back up to the 1,125 beds the facility had before layoffs and cutbacks reduced the number of available beds to 800, Rehrauer said.
The tax revenue would reopen the 250-bed work release center, but to also pay for 196 new minimum- to medium-security beds and 292 new maximum-security beds.

The revenue from the tax will help cover those costs by allowing Pulaski County to repair current facilities, maintain and operate the detention facility for the next 10 to 15 years, and provide a minimum of $750,000 each year for prevention, intervention and treatment programs. Because of budget constraints, the detention facility has remained closed over 95 percent of the time.

The people being held right now, according to Baker and Rehrauer, are ones that are violent felons, people who have committed violent acts, such as shootings, rapes, beatings, etc., that did not make bond.
The cost of operating the jail has increased just like everything else these days, Rehrauer said.

Baker pointed out that non-violent felons don’t go to jail because of the facility being closed, while many violent offenders are released for lack of space.

“We want to ensure that there is room to lock up the violent felons when we can,” Baker said.
“What they have to do now when we get a violent felon is research who is currently in jail that is now eligible to be released, even though they would like to keep them,” Baker added. “It’s progressed to even worse than what it was when the jail was closed,” he said.

In 2003 and 2004, when the detention facility was at its maximum population of 1,125, it was closed 30 to 35 percent of the time, Rehrauer said.

In 2005, it was closed about 40 percent of the time. The facility is currently closed 95 percent of the time.

Baker explained that all the agencies that are involved in the group leadership meetings got together and concluded that “this was the best way we could do as far as a recourse of action in order to prevent the jail from being overcrowded then, so that it could hold a lot of felons and still be able to operate and function.”

“It’s frustrating to us because we can’t do what we know we need to do (because of no room in the jail),” Baker told The Leader. “What justice is there for the victims right now?

“How much of a service are we providing if we can’t keep people in jail?”