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Jail options to be discussed

A Crawford County official is looking to get a clear direction from justices of the peace on how to proceed on issues involving the county jail.

Crawford County Judge John Hall wants JPs to make a decision about whether or not they wish to move forward with a special election for a sales tax to fund a new jail, he said. He plans to ask JPs about the issue during the Crawford County Quorum Court meeting Monday night, he said.

“I’m going to bring the jail up to the quorum court and ask them in a discussion manner whether or not they support a sales tax issue for a new jail,” Hall said.

A decision needs to be made, Hall said, because if members of the Crawford County Quorum Court want to go ahead with a sales tax vote, the special election needs to be held in February or March 2014.

Timing for the special election is based on the need for the county’s election commission to have a 120-day notice to prepare for the election, and to prevent interfering with the primary election in May.

“I need some direction and guidance from the quorum court on how they feel about the funding issue and the time issue,” Hall said.

If JPs choose not to support a sales tax for the jail, county officials - including Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown - need to find other ways to bring the jail into compliance with state regulations, Hall said.

Brown and his staff are in the process of correcting what they can - such as replacing old mattresses with fireproof versions and housing more inmates outside the county - to comply with state regulations after being put on probation once again for overcrowding and other violations.

But Brown told JPs during their meeting in August that many things “we just can’t do without the architectural structure of the jail being changed.”

For those violations to be corrected, the jail would need to be remodeled or a new jail built, he said.

A sales tax could fund a $20 million, 264-bed jail with the capability of a 132-bed expansion that was previously proposed by Brown, but JPs would need to decided on the size of the tax, which would affect how long it was in place, Hall said.

If approved by voters, a 1 cent tax would be in place five years, a half-cent tax for 10 years and a quarter-cent tax for 20 years, Hall said. With interest rates under two percent, Hall feels now would be the best time to purchase a bond issue to pay for the jail, he said.

A representative from Stephens Inc. financial group will be on hand at the Monday meeting with financing estimates, Hall said.

Hall added that JPs also need to be thinking - if they choose to go ahead with a sales tax vote - about what to do with the existing jail, which he said county officials “can’t walk off and leave.” The county pays about $20,000 a year rent for the space across the street from the jail where the Sheriff’s Office is located, he said.

“I just need to get some kind of consensus from the quorum court about where they want to go on this thing and when,” Hall said.

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