September 2, 2015 Edition

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Half-cent sales tax
needed to fund jail

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

The Lawrence County Quorum Court met Monday night to review and determine a sales tax amount to be used to fund a new county jail. After reviewing preliminary bond information provided by Stephens Public Finance, the court voted to present a proposed half-cent sales tax to fund the construction and operations of a new jail.

Justices reviewed a couple of options for the sales tax amount, including a 14-year five-eighths cent tax. The lower half-cent tax will put less financial strain on the public year to year, but data shows it will take 22 years to pay off construction costs and generate nearly $2 million more in interest to be paid off.

Both options will include a one-eighth cent tax that will not sunset as it will be used for the maintenance and operations of the jail. County Judge Dale Freeman said that while the county is moving forward with the proposed sales tax, every funding possibility for the jail is being explored and will be implemented if it can save the taxpayers.

An election date has not been set yet, but will be discussed during a special meeting today at 5 p.m. in the courtroom of the Lawrence County Courthouse. A target date of November 2015 has been recommended through discussions between the SouthBuild Team, the firm tasked with developing the plans for the new jail, and county officials.

The proposed 100-bed facility would be built at the West Elm and Sixth intersection in Walnut Ridge. It would include everything needed to run the jail as well as office space for the sheriff's department. The jail is designed where it can be easily expanded in the future if the need occurs.

After a four-day session in which SouthBuild collected data and interviewed local officials, a detailed floor plan and cost estimates were provided. A total estimated cost of $8,352,615, which includes two contingencies of three percent each in case certain unforeseen expenses arise.

Jim Langford with SouthBuild said that in the company's 19 years of business and approximately 50 projects, it has never gone over budget.

The county is required to present a detailed plan to the Arkansas Jail Standards Committee by Oct. 1. Sheriff Jeff Yates said that recent conversations with Sterling Penix with the committee led him to believe that the recent efforts put forth by the county to develop this plan have not gone unnoticed.

"We're on the right track in keeping our jail," Yates said.

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