Hancock County voters will decide whether a new jail should be paid for using additional property taxes when they go to the polls Tuesday.
The county wants to increase property taxes by up to 14 cents for every $100 of assessed value. They say it’s necessary to help fund up to $55 million in construction costs for changes to criminal justice buildings. The current plan includes building a new jail with up to 460 beds, converting the current facility to house the community corrections program, and making repairs to the courthouse.
Jail Commander Keith Oliver says it’s a project that’s urgent because of consistent overcrowding.
“This morning we had 203 inmates in the facility,” Oliver says. “With that being said, we’re a 157 bed facility. And, we’re supposed to run at 80 percent of that.”
That means some inmates are sleeping on the floor, using plastic “boats” as beds. Hancock County is also paying surrounding communities to house about 42 inmates. The costs, he says, add up quickly.
“It’s $35 a day,” he says. “So, our last month’s bill for LaGrange was $26,000.”
In addition to asking Hancock County residents to pay increased property taxes, the state legislature gave the county approval this year to increase income taxes to help cover construction costs.
Hancock County Commissioner John Jessup says he’d like to see the county use both methods to pay for the projects.
“The best way to get the broadest tax base and affect people the least amount would be to do a combination of income tax and property tax,” Jessup says.
Jessup says if the referendum doesn’t pass, the county will still use increased income taxes to fund the safety and security project.