Jail committee, stuck on financing, will have a new leader

Danny Flynn, chairman of the citizens advisory group appointed to study and recommend a plan of action regarding a jail facility, announced his resignation at the Thursday, Nov. 5, meeting.

Flynn said his reason for leaving the committee is because of a ?once in a lifetime? business move that will take him out of the county.

Prior to leaving his position, Flynn also summarized the work thus far by the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforce?ment Center Committee.

?You (the committee) have done a tremendous job,? he said. ?You have a way to build the jail, have supplied a way to pay for it and who will build it.?

Until the financing questions are answered, though, he said their hands are tied on moving forward.

?The committee might also want to pause until January and allow time for the commissioners and sheriff to tweak architectural plans for sally port, bathrooms, size,? Flynn said.

A major stumbling block for the committee continues to be finding a financing mechanism to build a complex.

When the committee first met in April, the majority of members said they were joining the committee with the understanding that they would not support a property or sales tax initiative to pay for a new facility.

Many on the committee were among Marion County voters who rejected a 1-cent sales tax that would have paid for a multi-million dollar jail complex one year ago, which is why the commissioners came up with the citizens group as their strategy to study the issue.

Early into the process, the committee recommended a special assessment fee of $10 or less on all 5,900 households in the county. The assessment would be removed after 10 years.

With construction prices down because of the poor economy, many architectural firms estimated a 26- to 32-bed complex at $4 million?or about half the cost commissioners were quoted in 2008 with similar dimensions.

However, when Susan Robson, Marion County attorney, checked with Michael Smith, assistant Kansas Attorney General, on whether this type of fee could be levied, Smith said it was not appropriate, in part because of language regarding what constituted a ?fee? as opposed to ?tax.?

The commissioners then requested this type of funding be called a ?special assessment tax,? but again, when Robson wrote to the AG?s office, the answer from Smith was that businesses cannot be exempt from residential, and this type of tax cannot be ?imposed? on taxpayers.

?We would not be imposing a tax,? one member of the committee said Thursday, ?but rather we would be placing the question on a ballot.?

County commissioner Dan Holub told the committee he is still waiting to hear from the AG?s office whether it would make a difference if the issue were brought to a vote.

?We wouldn?t be imposing a tax then,? Holub said.

If the AG?s office were to stand by its original opinion that the county cannot impose a tax like this on its citizens, Holub and the other commissioners would still have one more option.

?Taxes don?t come under home rule,? he said.

Yet if a representative were to make a statutory authorization?to go before the state legislature?and it passed, then the special assessment tax could be authorized, Holub said.

Flynn said if a legislator were to sponsor this type of tax, it could be a monumental achievement for Marion County and other municipalities.

?If you could get this (special assessment tax) passed, you would see a lot more jails built in the state,? Flynn said.

Another committee member said the legislature should allow communities more freedom.

?(The state) needs to let its citizens control their own destiny,? he said.

Assuming this most recent financing approach was a viable option, it would mean that anyone who receives a tax bill would be taxed under the special assessment, Holub said.

?It would make paying for the new complex fairer across the board,? he said, ?and provide equal protections with 911 dispatch and emergency preparedness.?

With about 8,120 taxpayers in Marion County, one committee member said, it might even mean a lower assessment per month?maybe $7 instead of $10 over the next 10 years.

?Some who objected to the $10 per household might even find this option more agreeable too as it relates to number of houses,? another member said.

For example, some landlords who had complained about having to pay $10 per house, might not be against paying $10, no matter how many houses they owned.

?The tax wouldn?t be assessed on each house,? Holub said, ?it would be on anyone with a tax bill.?

A taxpayer could have multiple houses, land or other property, but it would still be considered one bill, he said.

Another issue the committee will be looking over again is prisoner transport.

?In due diligence to the taxpayers of this county, we need to look at this again,? Flynn said.

Volunteering to analyze the information with Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft were four members of the committee, Mike Kleiber, JoAnn Knak, Dan Kinning and Dan Peugh.

?I don?t think we have done enough fact-finding and research on prisoner transfers,? Flynn said. ?We would expect this done in our personal lives.?

Minutes before concluding the meeting, Flynn recommended either Ed Wheeler or Mike Kleiber be appointed to take his place as chairman.

Wheeler asked to be removed from the list, and Kleiber said he would accept the position, but would rather it be offered to someone else.

With no other nominations considered, Kleiber was approved as the new chair.

The committee plans to make a formal recommendation to the commissioners in the next few weeks to include narrowing the choice of architectural firms to two and a financing option.

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