Jail group still lacks direction on funding

No legal decisions about whether Marion County can impose a per-household tax to fund a new jail, 911 dispatch and emergency management facility were available when the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee met Wednesday.

The citizens? committee, appointed by the county commission, also talked about setting dates for jail tours, town meetings and taking the issue to the voters.

Danny Flynn, committee chair, offered sketchy progress, saying Marion County Attorney Susan Robson resubmitted an opinion to the attorney general?s office with changes in wording.

In a previous letter from Robson in July, the Kansas AG?s office had concerns about using the words ?special assessment fee? as opposed to a ?tax.?

According to Michael Smith, assistant attorney general, the court determined a tax is a forced contribution to raise revenue for the maintenance of governmental services offered to the public.

A fee, on the other hand, is paid in exchange for a special service, benefit or privilege not automatically conferred upon the general public.

In conclusion, Smith stated that ?given the nature of the proposed project, construction of a jail, the term ?fee? is incorrect.?

In addition to the county attorney waiting to hear from the state on the second inquiry, one of the committee members is also working with bond counsel on another front.

Committee members decided to move forward as if the funding was in place and Flynn asked for input on dates to have an open house at the jail.

The biggest reason to encourage jail tours came after Flynn and another committee member discovered how few people have ever been to the facility.

?We spoke to a group of 50 business people and of those only four had seen the jail,? Flynn said.

Tentative dates for the open house are Sept. 28, 29 and 30. More information will be released closer to tour dates.

Committee members also want to know what the public thinks about a special $10 tax on households to fund a new facility.

?We need to find out what the voters think,? one member said.

Rather than wait for a protest petition, the committee believes the facility should be voted on in spring.

Town meetings will help voters make an informed decision about the special assessment tax.

?We need to help the voters understand that the flat fee tax will go away,? one member said. ?Unlike a property tax, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the assessment.?

Another member said, with no offense to the county commissioners, that increases in property taxes rarely go away.

If a property tax were levied for the new jail facility and operating expenses, the amount could be between six and seven mills.

But the special assessment tax would be used strictly for the building and would ?sunset? in 10 years or less. Although the county would still assess property taxes to operate the facility, it would still be less in the long run.

?I don?t like to say it, but normally when property taxes go up for a specific reason, they rarely go away,? he said. ?The special assessment tax will go away.?

The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, in the conference room at St. Luke Hospital, Marion.

Committee members encourage the public to continue offering their opinions in the form of letters.

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