WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Two Washington County Quorum Court committees backed a plan to put the jail expansion on the November ballot.

The county’s Budget and Finance Committee and Jails/Courts/Law Enforcement Committee both passed an ordinance to put a sales tax increase on the ballot. It would be a 0.25% sales tax increase to fund the expansion of the Detention Center and the Juvenile Justice Center.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said now is the time to take action on the project to combat jail overcrowding.

“If you want to live in a safe community and your quality of life not change than you have to have sufficient bed space in the detention center,” Helder said.

While Beth Coger with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said the investment needs to be in things like pre-trial services. Coger said she wants the court to first implement recommendations from a 2019 study that looked at ways to help with overcrowding.

“If we build a thousand more beds were going to fill it and lock away more poor people and people who can’t make bail,” Coger said.

The construction of the Detention Center is estimated to cost about $113.5 million and the Juvenile Justice Center is estimated to cost about $28.5 million. However, those costs don’t include the money needed to keep the bigger facilities up and running. Coger said she hasn’t seen the Quorum Court discuss what the funding will look like once the expansion is complete.

“How are we going to pay for that, there’s no mention of that anywhere,” Coger said.

Sheriff Helder said he knows the expansion will make the jail more expensive to run, but he said he believes justices of the peace will decide the best course of action on that funding down the road.

“I am optimistic we are going to meet those staffing needs and the Quorum Court in their infinite wisdom is going to figure out how to finance that part of it,” Helder said.

The full Quorum Court will discuss the ordinance on Thursday.