Tuesday, July 25, 2006

TOP STORY>>Alderman back vote on special jail funds

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council Thursday approved a resolution supporting Pulaski County’s planned special election for a quarter- cent sales tax to provide for construction, maintenance and operations of additional jail space. The quorum court has set Sept. 12 for the election.

The election, which was approved Wednes-day by the Pulaski County Quorum Court, will relieve eight cities of annual contributions to help operate the overcrowded jail.

If passed by voters, Jacksonville, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle, Alexander, Wrightsville and Cammack Village no longer will be responsible for the $2 million annual jail-fund contributions for housing city inmates. In return, they will receive none of the tax revenues.

Jacksonville pays approximately $129,420 each year toward the county jail.

With two ordinances on its agenda, the quorum court members voted 10-5 in favor of the appropriation ordinance to hold a special election and voted 13-2 for an emergency ordinance allowing Pulaski County to participate in a new inter-local agreement authorizing the distribution of revenues to the county treasurer, should the tax be approved.

If approved, the tax will take effect Jan. 1.

It is expected to raise $18.9 million per year, doubling the current $16.5 million budget that the county will continue to allocate toward the crowded jail.

Language on the proposed ballot indicates the money will be for “acquiring, constructing, extending, improving, equipping, maintaining and operating” detention centers in Pulaski County.

Interest and reserves from tax revenues also will be allocated to the jail and not spent by the county for any other purposes, according to the inter-local agreement.

It also specifies the county’s agreement to “acquire, construct, renovate and equip additional facilities” to raise the minimum bed count to 1,618 from its current 880.

Money raised from the sales tax also is expected to finance construction of additional jail cells and barracks for non-violent offenders.

Upon city councils’ approval and mayors’ signatures, the new interlocal agreement will relinquish eight cities from the 1990 agreement binding them to yearly jail contributions.

Also, with the new interlocal contract, at least $750,000 in county jail funds will be provided for prevention, intervention and treatment programs, at an annual increased rate of 4 percent.

A move by Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers to place the tax increase on the November general election ballot was defeated by a 9-6 vote.

Stowers said this would have allowed more time to educate the public and increase likelihood of passing the tax.

Court member Dan Greenberg agreed, citing special elections in 1997 and 2002, in which voters rejected quarter-cent tax proposals to finance the county jail, and said, “It’s a waste of money, a strong reason not to blow $100,000 on a special election.”

A move to amend the quarter-cent increase to a one-eighth cent permanent and one-eighth cent temporary tax that would sunset in four years also was defeated by a 9-6 vote.