FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Thousands of voters in three Northwest Arkansas counties will see jail expansion measures on their ballots this year.
But what exactly are voters being asked to decide? Here is a closer look at the trio of jail expansion issues.
In Washington County, the topic of jail expansion boils down to a single question for voters, and it is a simple “yes” or “no” to a proposed 0.25% sales and use tax increase to fund the move. A quorum court vote in July put the question on this year’s ballot.
The expansion is aimed at alleviating overcrowding in the county jail. The detention center expansion is expected to cost $113.5 million and the Juvenile Justice Center Complex would require an additional $28.5 million.
“Arkansas Jail Standards provide that all detainees have a right to humane treatment which provides for clean living quarters and a healthy safe and secure environment. When the maximum limit is reached, it is time to seek overcrowding relief.”
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder
The measures in Benton and Madison counties are each composed of two questions, with one pertaining to bonds and the other to operating revenue. Benton County’s ballot measure, like Washington County’s, was approved earlier by a quorum court.
The two issues Benton County voters can approve are the following:
- A 0.125% sales tax increase to pay for the bond for the expansion
- A 0.25% sales tax increase to pay for operations and management of the jail
The first increase would end once the bonds are paid for, while the second would remain in place permanently. County Judge Barry Moehring said that the county would “reevaluate the next steps” if one measure passes while the other fails.
“We need them both to pass because one would allow us to build the jail and then the other would give us the opportunity to operate the jail,” said Moehring. “So, one without the other would be a very difficult situation for us.”
If approved, the Benton County jail expansion would consist of a three-phase process beginning in 2023. A Kansas City architecture firm estimated the total cost at $241 million.
Madison County voters will also make their choices on a pair of questions, but involving higher tax rate increases. The first proposal to cover the maintenance and operations of the jail would increase the tax by 1.25%, while the second, to fund the building of the jail, would be 0.5%. The latter would expire once the bond is paid off.
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