Leader Blues

Thursday, November 01, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sheriff makes plea for jail beds

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

After Pulaski County’s three failed attempts to pass a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax to fix and run the jail, two county officials have decided to pass the hat instead.

If the 12,088 people who voted for the tax increase in September 2006 each donated $10.91 to a sequestered public safety fund, the county could fix the roof and mechanical systems at the old jail, moving one step closer to increasing capacity to 1,130 prisoners, as it was a few years ago, Sheriff Doc Holladay and Treasurer Debra Buckner said.

In announcing a new “First Step” program to reporters Tuesday in a decrepit part of the old jail, they said donations would be tax deductible.

Even if the building were fixed, it would require an annual appropriation of about $3 million to staff the increased capacity and feed and care for the inmates, Holladay said.

The goal for the fund is $988,503, Buckner said, but the county already has $856,575 in the fund, leaving a balance of $131,928. Or, Holladay said, if 1,000 people each donated $131.93, the goal could be reached.

“That’s (equivalent) to one trip to (the mega toy store),” Buckner said.

The two officials said they hoped to raise the money by the end of this year. Each put a check for $131.93 into a blue envelope designated for the account, along with $5,000 from a business owner who asked not to be identified.

“First Step is very proactive,” Buckner said.

County residents have voted down three attempts in recent years to raise taxes to expand the jail—or even to increase its capacity to what it once was.

“After three turndowns, we need to do what we can,” said Holladay.

Buckner said the money would be placed into a sequestered account, where it could be used only for jail improvements.
She noted that one finding of the UALR study concerning the jail and the county was that residents don’t have great faith in officials.

“I’m a career banker, you can trust me,” she said.

“We need a dedicated sales tax,” Buckner added, “but we’re not waiting.”

She said even people who didn’t think prisoners deserved a decent place to live should consider that it is also the workplace for jailers.

She said just as some people “support the troops even though they don’t support the war,” taxpayers should donate to support the deputies if not the inmates.

To get a blue envelope to make a donation, people can go by the treasurer’s office at 201 S. Broadway or the sheriff’s office on Woodrow Street at the detention center in Little Rock.

The public can also request envelopes by calling the sheriff’s office at 340-7055 or the treasurer’s office at 340-8345.