Recently there have been a few letters to the editor regarding the May 7th ballot proposal to construct a new jail and sheriff’s office which have contained misinformation, rumor and outright false claims. Listed below are some of the most common misconceptions, along with facts to set the record straight. Please be careful of what a few critics are saying and take the time to become correctly informed.
• A new Sheriff’s office and jail is not necessary: A recent MDOC inspection, jail feasibility study and an energy audit have all determined that a new facility is warranted. The current antiquated linear jail has constant mechanical failures causing constant interruptions, which makes it operationally dysfunctional, staff inefficient and unsafe. The jail’s current design and conditions make staff unable to comply with state standards, which greatly increases the county’s liability.
• The old jail can just be fixed up: The current sheriff’s office and jail was built in 1963 to house 47 inmates and has received two additions to increase capacity to 132 inmates without increasing resource areas and infrastructure. This 181 percent increase in population 24/7 and 365 days a year has overtaxed every system in the jail and has promoted accelerated deterioration. All infrastructure systems like the roof, plumbing, heating, cooling, electrical and locks are beyond their useful life. Cost of renovation at the current location simply exceeds the cost of new construction.
• Neighboring counties are building larger facilities at a cheaper cost: Simply not true. Costs recently reported in the news of neighboring facilities being built have often only covered the hard construction costs and do not include the total cost nor the building of a sheriff’s office which houses animal control, homeland security/emergency management, road patrol, detective bureau, etc.
• The proposed jail is too big and a smaller size facility will suffice: The proposed jail would house 224 inmates, but jails are often considered full around 80 percent when you break down all the classifications and different separations of security levels. This jail is not being built to last 20 years but probably 50 to 60 years and needs to be constructed with planned future growth of the county.
• The proposed jail is just being built as a taxpayer funded money maker: There is no profit to be made in “renting beds” or housing inmates from other communities. However, if extra space is available, operational costs can be reduced or offset due to the fixed costs and efficiency of operating a new facility. This is a possibility in the short term and revenues received could be used to help pay off the bond early saving taxpayer dollars.
• The increase will raise my property taxes thousands of dollars: The upcoming election will let voters decide on a 20-year millage of 1.64 mills. For the average Shiawassee County homeowner with a taxable value of $50,000, this equates to $82 per year. This is based on taxable value and not the market value or state equalized value (SEV). Simply take your taxable value and multiply by .00164 or visit the online calculator at www.pfmtaxcalc.com/shiawasseecounty/default.aspx.
• The new jail will offer free college educations and vocational degrees: This is probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted information out there. This millage will continue the programming that already exists such as mental health screening and substance abuse counseling, but it will also provide classroom space for GED completion and other programs to prevent re-incarceration. Simple vocational training may be offered to some inmates to develop some basic skills for future employment when released. An example of this is the current jail garden which has inmates learning how to grow food to supply the kitchen and local food pantries.
• The proposed jail is nothing but a luxurious Taj Mahal for inmates: Some uninformed critics are claiming that new jail will have cells with carpet and la-z-boys, which is simply not true. The jail cells will still be made of steel and concrete and all surfaces will be coated with coating much like a sprayed on truck bed liner. This will help improve security, health and safety issues for county employees and inmates.
• Why are DDA’s capturing money from a millage to build a jail and Sheriff’s office?: Michigan law requires that ballot proposals imposing a new millage, or increasing or renewing an existing millage, shall fully disclose each local unit of government to which the revenue from that millage will be disbursed. The definition of “local unit of government” includes cities, villages, townships and school districts, as well as any local “authority” created under state law, e.g. DDA, LDFA, TIFA, etc. To the extent that any such local authority receives a portion of the taxes through a tax increment financing mechanism, the ballot language should disclose that the local authority may capture a portion of the proposed millage. The amount captured depends on the particular TIF Plan, and the incremental value of the property being taxed.
Citizens for a Safe Community