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Lake County voters to consider property tax hike to finance jail expansion

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POLSON – Following months of discussions, Lake County commissioners Dave Stipe, Bill Barron and Gale Decker unanimously decided on Wednesday, Sept. 11, to move forward with a proposed ballot question this fall that will ask the voters to decide whether additional jail and courtroom space is worth a property tax increase. Ballots could go out in the mail around the middle of November and be counted by the middle of December.

The measure comes after years of criticism that the county jail’s existing poor conditions and inefficiencies have caused safety concerns for the public, inmates and deputies. The county lockup was built for 46 people in 1938, and in recent years, the average daily population typically hovers around as many as 60 inmates. The number has been as high as 90 before a lawsuit, occurring about 30 years ago, reduced the number of people allowed in the jail.

“This has been a problem for a long time,” said Barron. “We have gotten to a point where we have to do something, in my opinion. We have reached a point where I don’t feel we have any other option but to put forth a mill levy.”

Dubbed Resolution 19-20 (A), the proposed measure will ask the county’s approximately 18,000 registered voters to raise the county property tax mill levy by 37.33 mils, generating an estimated $2.5 million per year beginning in 2020, according to county documents. For a home with an average value of $280,000, the tax would increase by approximately $140 per year.

According to Barron, “$2.5 million is the maximum amount requested per year. If we don’t need it, we won’t levy for it. The county will levy for what we actually need, if we don’t need it, it will not be assessed.”

Stipe said the county has “always been frugal with taxpayer’s money.” He continued to say: “We aren’t carrying debt like so many counties around us that have millions and millions of dollars in debt. At this point, we don’t have any debt at all, and that’s how we like to operate, but, it seems, we won’t be able to do that to solve this problem. We are going to stay as frugal as we can to accomplish what we need to do.”

If approved by voters, improvements would likely begin in the spring of next year and be financed over 20 years with a sundown date of 2040 on the mill levy. If approved, the new facility will have 100 jail beds, allow deputies to easily work among the inmate population within the facility and increase courtroom and office sizes. It would also have additional rooms for alternative sentencing, mental health and other programs aimed at lowering recidivism.

 

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