Washington County Jail Causes Major Budgetary Concern

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (Fox 24) — Several tax increases in Washington County could bring in extra revenue for the county. One of those is a property tax hike. 

The current county property tax stands at three-point-nine mills. It generates nearly twelve-and-a-half-million dollars in tax revenue. The new proposal would make it five mills. 

Nearly sixteen-and-a-half million dollars in tax revenue would come in if it’s passed by the quorum court on Thursday night. For taxpayers owning a $100,000 property, the proposal would equate to an extra $22 per year in property tax. Currently, five mills is the highest a county can tax on properties without voter approval. The Washington County Quorum Court will meet tomorrow night to discuss the millage increase. 

The current hardships the Washington County Detention Center faces is a factor for the possible property tax increase. Every inmate taken in costs the detention center more than $60. 

That doesn’t even include the daily costs for prisoner while behind bars. 

“It’s a serious matter right now,” said Bill Ussery, a Washington County Justice of the Peace and the Chair of Budgetary Committee. 

He says the Washington County budget is not looking good. 

“The whole reason we are in the crisis we are now is because of our jail,” Ussery said. 

You’ve heard the stories about Washington County jail overcrowding. But do you realize how much the detention center actually costs taxpayers in the county? 

“It’s something that needs to be looked at, at the state level, to try and be equitable in the cost sharing of this problem of housing state prisoners,” said Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder. 

There are twelve different funds which factor into the budget for law enforcement and jailing in the county. When you add them all up, it equals nearly 28 millions dollars. Compare that to the nearly 69 million dollar budget, with other essential items like ambulance services, roads and medical clinics, that means 40 percent of the budget bleeds from the needs of the overcrowded Washington County Detention Center. 

“Right now, its been a burden on the budget,” Ussery said. 

There are those in the county who say a proposed millage increase, set to be voted on tomorrow, could alleviate the pain.

“Nobody likes to pay anything they don’t have to, but we’re at the point where we’re going to have to do something to supplement our jail,” Ussery said.  

That increase boils down to an additional $22 per year in property taxes for every $100,000 of home value. For those who think housing criminals isn’t worth the extra investment, the budgetary committee chairman says there is another alternative. 

“I think the choice is obvious. I don’t think any of us want those guys on the street, so I think that’s a pretty easy answer,” Ussery said. 

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