Crawford County officials will move forward with plans for a new county jail and a possible special election for a sales tax to pay for it.
While Crawford County justices of the peace have not yet agreed to hold the sales tax, they did agree to look at a plan for the construction, costs, financing and location of a new jail.
If they agree that the plan is sound and can be thoroughly explained to their constituents, most JPs indicated that they would be willing to support a special election for a sales tax to fund the new jail.
JPs, along with Sheriff Ron Brown and County Judge John Hall, came together during a jail committee meeting Monday night. While the meeting wasn’t long enough to make any decisions on the jail issue, the topic was picked back up during the regularly scheduled quorum court meeting.
JP Lloyd Cole and Hall pushed the other members to make a decision on whether they wanted to go forward with a special election or not.
“I think we ought to come to a consensus on how things are going to be,” Cole said.
Hall pointed out that with other impending election dates, the decision needed to be made quickly if JPs hoped to pursue funding for the jail.
“I’m not personally pushing a new jail,” Hall said. “I’m here to do what the quorum court tells me. If it’s the direction we want to go, we need to get this issue behind us.”
Building a new jail or remodeling the current facility are apparently the only avenues left for the county to come into compliance with state regulations, Brown said Monday night.
“Basically we have completed everything we are able to do,” Brown told JPs. “Everything else will have to be structural.”
Brown has been working to resolve violations since being placed once again under probation in July. The jail has been on probation since Nov. 2011 and numerous times before that.
“I just want JPs to know that this has been going on for a while, that the only way to pay for a new jail is with a sales tax and the only way to get a sales tax is with a special election and JPs have to approve that,” Cole said.
While several JPs said they were not sure if voters would support it, others said residents only needed to understand what they were voting for.
“If you tell people what you’re doing, how much it’s going to cost and what to expect, they will support it,” JP Cathy Gifford said.
Cole agreed to gather the necessary information and bring a complete plan for JPs at the next quorum court meeting Oct. 21.
After about 45 minutes of discussion on the subject, all but one JP indicated by a show of hands that they would be interested in looking at the plan and consider support of a tax proposal.
“If we can come up with a good plan that explains everything about the issue and present it to the people, then I think the [sales tax proposal] has a good chance of passing,” Hall said after the meeting.
Also during the Monday meeting, JPs approved a deputy sheriff to act as the school resource officer at Tate Elementary School for the Van Buren School District.
Van Buren will reimburse the county 100 percent of the officer’s salary. Brown said the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department would absorb the fuel and transportation costs, as the deputy also would be performing other duties for the CCSD.