RICHMOND — The public gave its input on a proposed property tax increase during a public forum Tuesday night at the Perkins Building at Eastern Kentucky, and while most agree Madison County needs a new detention center, the bigger question is how to fund an updated facility.
In a meeting last week, the court heard and passed first reading of an ordinance that would increase the county’s property tax rate from 8.2 cents per $100 assessed to 19.6, an increase of 11.4 cents for property owners in the county to fund a $45 million detention center.
The ordinance stated, “Whereas the cost of the 800-plus bed facility is $45 million, and whereas, the real property rate is not enough to cover the maintenance, construction and operations of either the current or future detention center — now therefore be it ordained to increase the real property rate 11.4 cents per $100.” The ordinance also states the county has explored all possible revenue options under state law to fund a detention center.
In a roll call vote last week, Magistrates Tom Botkin, Roger Barger and Judge Executive Reagan Taylor voted in favor of the ordinance, while Larry Combs voted against the move, while John Tudor abstained, citing the amount of the proposed increase.
Taylor, Botkin, Barger, Combs and Tudor attended the two-hour forum, which was moderated by Deputy Judge Executive Colleen Chaney. The panel included Madison County Jailer Steve Tussey, Madison County Sheriff Mike Coyle, and Madison County Treasurer Glenna Baker. An estimated 150 people attended the forum and 20 members of the public spoke during the session.
“This tax increase is unacceptable and undoable for me,” Madison County resident Michael Oliver said. “My wife and I have invested in property, and our taxes are probably going to require us to leave the county and sell out.”
“That’s my only retirement. … We need to plan not to fail and this jail is a plan to fail. … I cannot accept the fact that this county is going to provide a new Taj Mahal for prisoners. They ought to be in trailers. … This is a country by the people for the people and right now, it appears it’s for the prisoners.”
Neal Metcalf was in favor of the proposed increase.
“It’s not a popular choice, but I’m willing to stand up here and support the county, in this situation,” he said. “I don’t own multiple pieces of property (like) the gentleman (who spoke before me), however, I don’t see that the county has not exhausted every effort to try and combat the situation. I don’t see that we haven’t tried to combat the drug situation in this county. … I’m for what they need to do for three reasons: Public safety of us … I’m not interested in having the Wild West come to my door and I’m not interested in having public servants who barely making a living wage to protect our community (in a bad situation). I’m a commercial real estate broker in this community and I’m one of the biggest cheerleaders for this community every single day, trying to increase economic development in this community. We need the basics of safety, for people to even consider our community for growth.”
Brenda Covington was impressed by the presentation by Chaney but said, medical costs and other increases are piling up, adding additional burden on the average taxpayer.
“It’s not that we don’t agree with you , because we do,” she said. “We understand the problem and I understand we need a bigger jail … the one thing that we all agree on, there is a drug problem and we need to do something about that.
It’s not that we disagree, with what you’re needing to do, I just think we’re trying to balance it all out.”
Tussey said the county is “at the end of our rope” and said the current facility is “quickly approaching” a daily flow of 450 inmates. He said the jail issue isn’t a “new problem” and the detention center has been “at grossly overcrowded numbers for several years” and has felt a sense of urgency since he took office.
“We’ve done everything we could physically, possibly, manageably do,” he said. “We’re managing as best we can, we’re running out of options.”
As a short-term solution, Tussey is sending inmates to other counties and recently entered into an agreement with Laurel and Grant County to accept inmates in the future. Even that, he said, is costly to the county.
“It’s becoming more difficult because the other counties are having the same problem we have,” Tussey said.
“They’re all getting full and that’s getting harder and harder to do and we have to go farther and farther away to find an empty bed.”
The county also is placing a limited number of inmates on a home incarceration to help relieve overcrowding issues at the current facility.
“We’re getting more people on that program every day,” Tussey said.
The county still owes $2.2 million on the existing detention center.
“That bond payment is (tied to) some other bond payments that a couple of years ago we refinanced and grouped together,” Baker said. “We will continue out of the general fund to make that bond payment. It’s not even on the numbers for (the new) jail.”