County waits for funding ruling by AG

In the next few days, the Marion County commissioners could have an answer from the state on whether their latest plan to pay for a new jail will be approved.

The funding proposal is before the Kansas Attorney General; if it is ruled to be constitutional, every property-tax payer in the county could pay a $10 fee per month for the next 10 years, including commercial, agricultural and residential entities, according to Commissioner Dan Holub.

?We could get a definitive answer from the attorney general?s office as early as this week,? Holub said.

Should the state allow the county to proceed with the assessment, Holub said, county voters would still need to vote on the assessment in either April or November.

What makes this proposal different than the other financing plan that was recommended to the county by its jail committee (Marion County Public Safety Law Enforcement) in May 2009, is that anyone who receives a tax statement would pay the $10. The earlier plan assessed only residential dwellings.

Regarding the first option, Michael Smith, assistant to the Kansas Attorney General, stated that assessing a residential fee would create classes being treated differently. Certain residential property owners would be assessed $10, while commercial and agricultural property owner would not.

The newer proposal would include 8,100 taxpayers?anyone receiving a tax statement?as opposed to 5,900 home owners in the county.

The county is hoping that spreading the fee in a more uniform manner, the state will approve it.

This newest funding option was discussed at the commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, and included a telephone conference call with David Arteberry, senior vice-president with George K. Baum & Co. of Kansas City, who deals in tax-exempt bond issues and Jonathan Small, Topeka attorney.

Also present in the commission room were commissioners Holub, Bob Hein and Randy Dallke; Sheriff Rob Craft, County Attorney Susan Robson and representatives of the jail committee: chairman Mike Kleiber of Hillsboro, Gene Pearson of Burns, Don Kraus, and Burton Tidwell of Marion, Bryan Har?per of Florence and Barbara Britton of Goessel.

Others present during the telephone conference call were Chuck Seifert, Rocky Hett and Dale Smith.

Should the newest fee not be approved by the state, Holub said the county could take legislative action.

?This could take two years and still be challenged (by taxpayers in Marion County),? he said.

The only other options available would be to look at a property tax or revisit a sales tax increase, but these choices have been resisted.

In November 2008, voters by a 3-1 majority nixed a one-cent sales-tax increase to spend $7.5 million for a 75-78-bed jail.

In response to the setback, commissioners formed the citizens committee to study and consider all options.

When the appointees met for the first time in April 2009, a majority voiced opposition to raising the mill levy or using sales tax as a way to finance a new jail. Most said landowners and businesses had been taxed enough.

The major difference in the most recent proposal, according to Holub, is that no matter how many parcels of land a taxpayer has, the cost would be $10.

Under the first proposal recommended by the committee, only homeowners would be taxed. If someone owned more than one house, each house would have been assessed $10. In the new proposal, the number of homes wouldn?t matter.

?The fee would only be applied once to each taxpayer,? Holub said.

The proposed fee would still carry a sundown clause, meaning the fee would have an end date, unlike most property taxes that remain on the rolls indefinitely.

The jail committee considered the fee per home to be the most fair and equitable option.

Since the new facility would also house 911 dispatch and emergency preparedness, committee members concluded every resident benefits from those services.

Another recommendation the committee made was for a jail of 26 to 40 beds, plus the two other departments at a cost of $4.5 million.

By October 2009, the committee had made its funding recommendation and narrowed the architectural firms to HMN Architects Inc. of Overland Park or Treanor Architects of Topeka.

The committee also appointed its own sub-committee in late fall to study the option of transferring prisoners out-of-county and building a transfer station to house inmates until they can be sent to another location.

This option would not solve the problem of what to do with 911 dispatch or emergency preparedness departments.

Holub said nobody is trying to impose anything on the taxpayer.

?Even if the attorney general?s office approves the fee, we still want this to go to a vote,? he said. ?We are only asking that the county be able to control its own destiny.?

One of the architects who visited with the jail committee in late fall said, ?If this $10 assessment is approved, it would be precedent-setting. We might see a lot more new structures (jails or other needed facilities) being built in Kansas using this cost structure.?

In addition to those who attended last week?s commission meeting, the other committee members are JoAnn Knak, Randy Hagen and Dan Kinning of Hillsboro; Dan Peugh of Peabody; Karen Wheeler and Ed Wheeler of Marion and Greg Winn of Florence.

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