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Crawford County officials change tax plan for jail funding

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

There's been another change in the plans for a new jail in Crawford County.

It was just a week ago that County Judge John Hall said the Quorum Court was leaning toward a half-cent sales tax — a half cent for 20 years to build the jail facility and another half cent to permanently fund operations and other law enforcement functions in the county sheriff's office.

Hall said Thursday (Jan. 30) that those plans were scrapped by a meeting of the Quorum Court's Jail Committee on Wednesday (Jan. 29). Now, instead of two quarter cent proposals, Crawford County voters are likely to vote on a half cent tax for nine years and a separate permanent quarter cent sales tax to fund law enforcement and operations, according to Hall.

"With the (original) fourth of a cent (proposal), it was going to be for 20 plus years and it was going to pay $17 million worth of interest on $20 million (in debt)," he said.

By shortening the time frame while increasing the amount the Court would be requesting from county taxpayers, Hall said the county would only pay $3.5 million in interest over those nine years and possible less, depending on the economy.

"It (sales tax revenues) go up, it pays off quicker. All of the money that comes in on debt serve has to be given to the debt, so if it happens to be more than anticipated, it pays off quicker."

While the amount of interest that would have been paid on the sales tax proposal floated last week was a high amount, Hall said other issues weighed on the jail committee meeting beyond the interest to be paid on the debt.

"In 25 years, it will be time to build another (jail) and the tax would probably never cease. We would have to start over and build another one. So we thought the public would be accepting (of a new sales tax) if it went away in nine years."

Now that the ballot titles declaring the tax rates for voters has passed the jail committee, Hall said the entire Quorum Court would vote at its regular February meeting on whether to place the issue on the May 20 primary ballot.

And it is not until that vote happens that any of the proposals are set in stone, meaning changes could still make their way into a proposal to be voted on before the Quorum Court on February 17.

Should both issues gain voter approval in May, the sales tax rate in Alma and Van Buren — Crawford County's two largest cities — would jump from 9.5% to 10.25%. The result would be one of the highest local sales tax rates in the nation.

Van Buren Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krutsch said last week that voters should understand that while unpopular, operating a jail is an essential service in any county, on par with police and fire protection. (It should be noted that Krutsch did not state an opinion for or against the proposed taxes, nor did the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce.)

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If the tax is passed by voters on May 20, Hall said sales tax collection would begin in October with the county receiving its first portion of the money in December. In preparation for possible passage of the tax, which will be the county's fourth attempt at securing sales tax funding for a new jail, Hall said architects would likely begin work on the jail's formal design in about March.

"But the project can't start (construction) until the money gets here. So construction would probably start a year from now if they pass it in May."

And as he said last week, Hall hopes the fourth time is a charm.

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