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$20 million dollar jail proposed

Members of the Crawford County Quorum Court agreed Monday to put forward a half-percent sales tax to voters to pay for a proposed $20 million county jail.

All but one Crawford County justice of the peace raised a hand in favor of the half-percent tax proposal, with one-quarter going toward the construction of the jail and the other quarter for ongoing operations.

JPs were given an option of a three-quarter percent, half-percent or quarter-percent sales tax for the construction, with an additional one-quarter for operations. The operations tax would be permanent.

A three-quarter percent tax would sunset in 2020 and cost the county just under $24 million in tax revenue toward the debt service for construction, according to a preliminary funding analysis from Stephens financial services. A one-quarter percent tax would sunset in 2041 and cost the county about $39.5 million in tax revenue.

During the meeting Monday, County Judge John Hall asked JPs which tax proposal they thought the public would be most likely to support.

Hall noted that if JPs decided on anything above a half percent, the county would have a higher total sales tax than Fort Smith until the construction portion sunsets.

“It’s been my consensus that the quarter percent would be best,” JP Cathy Gifford said.

“Who’s consensus is that?” asked JP James Lane.

“The consensus of the people I’ve talked to, about 10 people,” Gifford responded.

Other JPs agreed with Gifford and said they had the same response from constituents they had spoken to about the tax issue.

Only JP Lloyd Cole, who has helped head the move toward a new jail, did not vote on the half-percent tax proposal.

“I would like to see a 1 percent tax and have it paid off quicker and see us save money,” Cole said after the meeting.

Cole added that he refrained from voting because his main concern is getting the tax passed and the jail built, but he hopes there will be more discussion on the proposal amount.

Cole knows it is important to pass the proposal but also allow the county to remain competitive, he said.

“I don’t think the final decision has been made yet,” Cole said.

Several more issues regarding the jail issue have yet to be decided. An architect has not yet been chosen, nor a location for the new facility. JPs also must decide on how the public would be informed about the tax issue.

JPs also debated on the ballot title, and whether the quarter percent for operations would go to an operations and maintenance fund for the jail or to the county’s Public Safety fund to be allocated by the Quorum Court.

Another meeting will be called within the month to decide these issues so that they can be brought forward as ordinances for a formal vote during the quorum court meeting in February, Hall said.

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