Finance Committee Approves Possible Tax Increase to Put on Ballot for Prison Expansion

BENTONVILLE — Benton County justices of the peace have decided on the rate of a potential sales tax increase to be paid to expand the county jail.

Expansion was the focus of Tuesday’s finance committee meeting.

A county criminal justice committee recommends that nearly $250 million be spent on expanding the jail and court complex. The committee wants a tax increase in the November election.

The ballot measure will only relate to the jail expansion, as the justices of the peace plan to pay for the courts project with existing county money. The estimated budget for the prison is $206.2 million.

Justice of the Peace Joel Jones recommended that the committee set a sales tax increase of one-eighth of a cent to pay the bond for the expansion and a sales tax increase of one-quarter of a cent to pay the prison operations and management.

Jones noted that the jail likely won’t be fully staffed for a few years, and he said millions of dollars for operations and management could be used to repay bail until the jail is fully staffed. in staff.

Justice of the Peace Tom Allen said he did not want to raise taxes, but believed it was necessary.

The committee voted in favor of Jones’ motion, and it was moved to Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting. Justice of the Peace Joseph Bollinger was the only one to vote against sending the matter to the full committee.

Bollinger said he wanted more time to discuss the increases. He requested that the article be tabled, but the justices of the peace denied his request.

Sheriff Shawn Holloway told the committee the jail was cited by the state prison standards committee for the third year for understaffing and spacing. The committee asked the sheriff’s office to hire an expert to conduct a study of the prison’s staffing needs, he said.

The committee said the prison needed more medical space and noted the prison was overcrowded, Holloway said.

County officials discussed setting aside $20 million from U.S. bailout funds and $10 million from county reserves to help pay for the jail and courthouse expansion project . The court complex is estimated at $33.2 million.

The county will receive $54 million in bailout funds from the federal government.

Holloway had previously told justices of the peace that the average weekly prison population had exceeded the maximum allowed by prison standards since September 21. The prison has an average of 713 inmates with a maximum capacity of 669, he said.

Holloway said the prison’s standards committee noted there was a security issue with staff having to deal with the number of inmates being held at the facility. Holloway said the committee indicated the prison needed 20 to 30 additional staff.

Holloway also presented the committee with information from a study of prisons by prison consultant Bill Garnos. The study projects that in five years the prison will need 1,138 beds to accommodate 911 inmates, and it projects that the prison will need 1,796 beds to accommodate 1,436 inmates in 20 years, Holloway said.

The projections are only for felony cases and not misdemeanor inmates, he said. Holloway warned committee members of the risks of waiting to expand the prison.

Holloway said the $200 million expansion will cost more in the future. The same project will cost $100 million more in five years and $1.6 billion in 20 years, he said.

He urged justices of the peace to let voters decide the measure of the ballot

Justice of the Peace Carrie Perrien-Smith expressed doubts that voters would pass the measure. She wondered if the sheriff’s office should prioritize instead of building a big, big project. She cited an immediate need to add beds and improve the prison’s medical sector.

Justice of the Peace Brian Armas said he trusts voters to decide whether or not to support a tax increase for the project. Armas said he was against expanding the prison by patchwork.

“Biting now will save us money in the long run,” he said.

Jones said that’s a huge amount for the expansion and he doesn’t know if voters will support it. He said it’s a matter of public health and he wants to give voters as much information as possible and let them decide whether to vote for or against a tax hike.

Steve Cox of the Rogers/Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce said the chamber passed a resolution in favor of putting the question on the ballot.

Bella Vista Police Officer James Graves expressed support for the prison expansion.

Rogers’ Jon Comstock again urged the committee to consider alternatives before expanding the prison.

Justices of the peace will need to approve the wording of the ballot by Aug. 30 for the issue to be on the ballot for the November election.

Washington County officials are considering a $96 million prison expansion that could be on the November ballot in that county.