Sales tax hike for Lee County jail seen as falling considerably short
Lee County officials are moving ahead with plans to build a new jail after instituting a 0.5 percent sales tax increase for the project via a referendum in April.
Recent tax revenue projections, however, suggest that the jail is running up against financial constraints anyway: Although original cost estimates were as low as $15 million, new figures show the project is likely to cost approximately $18 million.
Meanwhile, county Finance Committee Chairman Bob Olson told SaukValley.com that the revenue coming from the tax hike might be closer to $700,000 than the $1.1 million originally projected.
The county has reported that it will implement a bond plan starting in October or November that involves an initial bond package for $10 million and another bond later to fold in the remaining balance. October is also when the county is expected to see the first revenues from the sales tax hike.
The county board has also agreed to take approximately $750,000 out of the $5.8 million in reserves for additional funding.
The sales tax hike was rejected by 61 percent of voters in March 2016, but after an energetic push by supporters, 64 percent of voters approved the increase this spring.
County Sheriff John Simonton has been supportive of the new building plan and the tax-funding strategy, saying a new jail is needed to maintain services in the county.
"It's really become a public safety issue because it's gotten to the point where we haven't met or complied with jail standards in almost 12 years," Simonton said, according to local TV station WREX. "We're trying to put everything under one roof, to again save maintenance costs and be much more efficient.”
The new jail facility, at 309 S. Galena Avenue, will be adjacent to the Lee County Courts Building. The plan includes space for 80 inmates, as well as sheriff’s and coroner’s offices, and a 911 center.
In the SaukValley.com, report, Olson also indicated that although the county has no debt and a good credit rating, state financial troubles are likely to “drag down” the county in its pursuit of financing.
The Lee County board meets again on July 18.