Data: Jail could need $1 million tax subsidy

Research commissioned by a citizens group opposing the county?s proposal for a 78-bed pay-to-stay jail indicates the operation would need to be subsidized with property taxes to the tune of nearly $1.2 million per year?even with the most optimistic occupancy rates.

The findings were presented at Monday?s public meeting called by the commissioners and their consultants in Hillsboro. Similar meetings were planned for Marion on Tuesday and Peabody on Thursday as a follow-up to initial meetings two weeks earlier.

Citizens For a Better Way, an organization of Marion County business persons and citizens, hired Jim Heinicke, former Newton city administrator, now retired, on Oct. 8 to research the issue on behalf of the group.

?We needed hard facts to see if our concerns about the financial viability of the commissioners? proposal were on target or not,? said Joel Klaassen, CFBW chairman. ?We weren?t getting that kind of data from the commissioners or their consultants.?

Klaassen is publisher of the Hillsboro Free Press.

Heinicke?s research focused on jail operations in five counties in central Kansas: Butler, Chase, Rice, Sumner and Harvey. Each of those counties had built a new jail since 1997 except Chase County, which constructed its original facility in 1992, but expanded it in 1997 and 2005.

The study gathered data about jail capacity, occupancy, fee rates for imported federal and county prisoners, operating costs and number of employees.

Annual operating costs for the five facilities ranged from $1.1 million to $3.2 million. Employment ranged from a minimum of 15 people where the prisoner census is 24, to a high of 60 employees for a census of 115 prisoners.

Counties cover all of the cost of their local prisoners while out-of-county prisoners may generate a fee from $22 to $60 per day. The latter is the rate for federal prisoners.

At the same time, the research indicates the average cost of housing the prisoners is $70.13 per day.

?Clearly, on average, these jails do not generate a surplus of revenues over expenses,? Heinicke stated in his report. ?Paying for construction would require additional funds from some other source.?

Because averages can be misleading, Heinicke developed four scenarios, based on varying occupancy rates, to determine the estimated impact of the proposed $8.65 million jail for Marion County.

Assuming revenue from the proposed 1-cent sales tax increase would be sufficient to cover the annual debt service for construction of nearly $860,000 over the 14-year life of the bonds, the research indicates a property-tax increase would be required to cover the annual shortfall in operating revenue.

The increase would range from 5.27 mills in the most optimistic scenario, where all of the ?pay-to-stay? prisoners are at the $60 rate paid for federal prisoners, to a high of 12.56 mills based on the average out-of-county fee rates of the five facilities.

Combining the operating losses and annual payments for construction, the new taxes resulting from construction and operation of the proposed 78-bed jail could range from $1.4 million to $2.1 million per year, Heinicke concluded.

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