Leader Blues

Friday, July 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sales taxes will hit many areas

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Three new taxes go into effect in Lonoke County on Oct. 1 — a county-wide penny sales tax to pay for a new jail that will be collected for one year only, a 1 percent tax in Austin that was passed to cash in on a new state law that says tax is collected at the point of delivery and a .25 percent tax in Carlisle that will be used for general improvements and to cover city expenses.

The additional taxes will increase Lonoke County’s tax to 2 percent and Carlisle’s to 1.25 percent. However, Oct. 1 will be the first time a sales tax will be collected in Austin.

The new county jail tax is expected to raise $5.5 million to $6 million before it sunsets a year after collection begins. The jail it will pay for is expected to house 140 inmates compared to 70 in the existing jail.

CARLISLE BONDS

In Carlisle, the .25 percent tax that voters narrowly approved had been collected to pay off bonds for water and sewer improvements. That tax ended when the bonds were retired this year, but city residents voted to allow it to be collected again to help pay the costs of running the city. The new .25 percent tax does not have a sunset clause.

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamber-lain said the city’s new 1 percent tax will pay for much needed improvements all over the city, such as the completion of a fire station, street repair and new cars for the police department.

Like other parts of northern Lonoke County, Austin is growing. The city has annexed several subdivisions and issues about 50 building permits a year.

Since Austin has no building- supply stores, all building materials for those houses are delivered and since a new state law went into effect Jan. 1, Austin has lost money on every load.

The point-of-delivery law that several states have passed is aimed at catalog and internet businesses which have not necessarily collected sales tax in the past.

But it also affects the “brick and mortar” businesses like furniture stores and lumber supply stores that often deliver the merchandise outside the cities where they are located.

COUNTY JAIL

County Judge Charlie Trout-man says he hopes the jail can be built using mostly inmate labor on loan from the state Correction Department or with the help of Act 309 trustee laborers.

County officials have sought for years an alternative to the overcrowded, inadequate and dangerous jail first built in 1972 and remodeled in 1992.

It was designed for 40 inmates. With additions, its current capacity is 72 beds and frequently holds more than 90 inmates with a high of 98.

The Public Policy Center of the Agriculture Extension Service found the current jail lacking or inadequate in the following areas:

No central control format, with doors facing every direction.n

No sally port, an enclosed area for loading prisoners in and out of the jail

Electrical and plumbing are in poor operating condition, according to Sheriff Jim Roberson.

The lock system is outdated.

The jail is unsanitary and unsafe for prisoners and employees.

The camera monitoring system is “considered poor.”

Female cells, designed for seven sometimes hold 15.

overcrowded, unsafe conditions have resulted in multi-million dollar lawsuits.