Friday, March 04, 2011

TOP STORY >> Jail worries Cypert

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert says he will attend the March 10 jail- committee meeting in Lonoke to discuss how to pay for running the new jail when it opens this summer.

His interest, he said, is whether the county intends to allow cities to use it.

During the meeting late last month, quorum court members who serve on the committee seemed to talk around the concept of a regional jail, one that would hold city prisoners from the time they are arrested. Only JP Adam Sims said outright that he doesn’t support that.

But Cypert said this week that he had always thought that building a new jail with money collected from all over the county meant that the cities where it was collected would eventually have the option of closing their lockups and sending prisoners to the county.

“The year-long, one-cent sales tax from Cabot residents significantly contributed to building that jail (almost $2 million of the $6.2 million collected),” the mayor said. “And our district court contributes to the operation and maintenance of the jail to the tune of $56,000 a year.

“The current thinking is that we want to get out of the jail business because of the liability, and it was my interpretation that this was going to be a regional jail,” he said.

Cost also is a concern, he said. In 2010, Cabot paid about $62,750 to house prisoners. Cypert said he has been talking to the committee and he has made it clear that Cabot wants a regional jail. However, until the decision is made to go regional, Cabot is interested in renting space on a daily basis similar to the way the state does. The question still to be answered is at what cost, he said.

The 140-bed facility is expected to cost $1.3 million a year to operate, but the county currently has only $900,000 budgeted.

Although voters approved a one-cent sales tax to build the jail, the tax went away after one year. Voters weren’t asked to keep part of that tax to run the jail.

Justice of the Peace Larry Odom, chairman of the jail committee, said renting the estimated 40-50 extra beds was always supposed to pay the extra cost associated with running a jail twice the size of the existing one.

To fund the sheriff’s department, which also is becoming underfunded, Odom proposes a permanent eighth-cent sales tax that would bring in about $750,000.

“This year to balance the budget, we had to cut $20,000 out of the sheriff’s gas money. There will be no new cars and his special accounts had to be used,” Odom told The Leader earlier this week.

Other proposals that are supposed to be discussed again at the March 10 meeting include a permanent half-cent tax in exchange for a rollback of the county millage from 3.5 to 1.75; another one cent for a one-year tax; a one cent tax to replace the county’s 3.5 millage; a tax to build an additional 128 beds to rent to the state and other counties and cities in need of space, and voting the county wet to get revenue from the sales tax on alcohol.