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Hancock Co. Residents Weigh In On Proposed Income Tax Hike To Fund New Jail

Some inmates have to sleep on plastic beds in common areas of cell blocks because there isn't enough room for them in the jail. (Steve Burns, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hancock County leaders want to move forward with plans to build a new jail, but residents still have questions about the potential cost and impact to the community.

Voters rejected a proposed property tax increase in May that the county hoped would help fund the project. 

Now the county council is considering a 0.2 percent local income tax increase to pay for the new jail.

The current facility is designed to hold 157 inmates, but often has well over 200.

Jail Commander Keith Oliver says getting a new building is an urgent need.

"To allow for staff to be more safe, to allow inmates to be safer in our facility, this is something we have to do," Oliver says.

Oliver attributes the overcrowding to several factors, including the drug epidemic and criminal code reform. 

Residents got a look at plans for the new facility during a public hearing Tuesday night. The new jail would have nearly triple as many beds, and includes a medical and therapeutic unit. The sheriff says he would likely need about double his current staff to operate the facility.

While initial estimates for the cost of the project were $35 million, county council members admitted Tuesday they don’t know the final projected cost.

That’s one of several concerns Greenfield resident Matthew Copher raised during the meeting.

"So, here we are you know hearing that we have to raise this tax, yet they don’t even really know how much tax we need to raise to cover what they’re proposing," Copher says. "And, that’s fiscally irresponsible. That’s not conservative."

Other residents urged the council to consider budget cuts or other funding methods instead of raising the local income tax.

Copher says the county should consider increasing the availability of work release and rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders. 

The county council could vote on the proposed tax hike as early as next week.

A 2018 report from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute says 77 percent of Indiana’s jails were at or over capacity. 

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