The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
Last July I noted that Sheriff Heiss had formed a task force to look into building a new $5 million jail. Last week, the County Commission voted to put a sales tax on the ballot to fund a $10 million jail, so itís time to reexamine the issue.
After my July letter appeared, Sheriff Heiss invited me to join the task force, one little Libertarian along with the heavy hitters among local Democrats and Republicans, so Iíve had a good look at how the project has developed. First, let there be no doubt that the current jail is inadequate, obsolete, unsafe, and generally the pits. Letís face it, many of us shopped in that building when it was a Safeway store; it never was suitable for conversion into a jail. Itís a lawsuit waiting to happen.
With the need established, the next question was jail capacity. It makes sense to plan for sufficient capacity to meet future needs caused by county growth, especially when much of that growth is migration from Kansas City. It would be short-sighted to build a jail that itself would be come obsolete in a relatively short period. However, the prisoner projections obviously assume that the current war on drugs will continue at its present level despite a growing number of states and cities moving toward virtual decriminalization of marijuana use.
If the county is to spend money on a jail, it needs to do so wisely. It makes sense to minimize interest costs by funding the bonds over as short a time as possible, and by sunsetting the tax when the bonds are done. On the other hand, the tax rate in Johnson County cities is climbing; Warrensburg is currently at 7.6% and the proposed Ĺ cent tax, while providing the lowest overall financing cost, would push the base over 8%. The proposal also provides for a part of the tax (1/8 cent) to continue after the rest sunsets in order to operate the jail.
There is a need and the elected officials of Johnson County have proposed a solution. It is up to the voters to learn all they can about the proposal and to cast intelligent votes in August.
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