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Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

Douglas County Jail

Informational materials regarding the upcoming referendum on a sales tax to fund a jail expansion and behavioral health initiatives will soon be available on Douglas County's website, and a series of public forums will also be held on the topic, an official told the Douglas County Commission Wednesday.

Sarah Plinsky, assistant Douglas County administrator, told county commissioners Wednesday that information on the referendum should be ready Friday or Monday on the county’s website, douglascountyks.org. She did not specify what kind of information would be provided on the site.

The county also will release a one-page printed pamphlet on the referendum, with jail expansion and sales tax information on the front and information about the mental health projects on the reverse side, Plinsky said. She didn't provide a time frame for the pamphlets or explain how they would be distributed.

Plinsky also told the commission she was looking to schedule town hall forums on the referendum for evenings or weekends in March.

The Douglas County Commission agreed last month to hold the sales tax referendum. If approved, the half-cent tax would raise an estimated $9.8 million in revenue, which would be used for the $44 million jail expansion and the $11 million behavioral health campus. It would also provide $5.1 million a year for new behavioral health programming and $1 million of the $6.1 million needed per year to operate an expanded jail.

At Wednesday's meeting, Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said she wanted the informational materials to detail what would happen if the referendum were to fail. She said she wanted the materials to specify that if the referendum were to fail, the commission would be forced to use property taxes to finance the jail expansion and there would be no funding for the behavioral health projects.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug has made clear that state statute prevents commissioners from advocating that county residents vote in favor of the bond question. Commissioners can present information and answer questions regarding the referendum and discuss options available to them should the referendum fail, but they should not advocate for or encourage a yes vote, he said.

The referendum will be in the form of a mail ballot. County Clerk Jamie Shew said last month that the ballots would be mailed April 25 and counted May 15.

In other business, the County Commission:

• Approved a text amendment to county code that adds landfills to the list of activities that are permitted with approved conditional use permits. The text amendment adds a definition of landfills to the county code and regulates such things as setbacks, screening and reclamation. Commissioners also approved language changes to the solid waste chapter in the county code to conform to the landfill text amendment.

• Approved a cost-sharing agreement with Baldwin City, Palmyra Township and residents of an adjacent subdivision to pave about 2,400 feet of East 1700 Road north of County Route 12 at the cost of $430,000. The center line of the road represents the Baldwin City limits in that section. Keith Browning, county public works director, said the county would fund 35 percent of cost of the improvements, Baldwin City 55 percent, Palmyra Township 10 percent and adjacent residents 20 percent. Baldwin City would be responsible for maintenance, he said.

Comments

Deborah Snyder

Wow. So, Ms. Plinsky wants to emphasize the punitive consequences to a rejection of more sales taxes, by explicitly threatening property owners with a tax hike and only for expansion of the jail. Uhm... O.K., where to begin....

1. The county and city should be ashamed for blatantly sucker-punching the voters with a false choice: Wanna mental health treatment facility?... then gimme an expanded jail. They *knew* a ballot for an expanded jail would fail on its own merit.

2. The *only* way Douglas County can increase property taxes is through a referendum. If voters reject the premise of any jail expansion, what in the world makes them think it would succeed under any other circumstance??

3. Adding insult to injury, there is no dollar amount or sunset specified in writing on this tax proposal. And every indication given in all the verbiage from these officials says that was deliberate.

4. The last point is the most shameful: pitting property owners (many who are absentee landlords and exempted developments) against sales purchases ends BADLY for every city (or state) which tries it. Taxing food should be considered illegal, as it has certainly been proven regressive and harmful to modest-income and working poor households.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Steve Jacob

The city has nothing to do with this vote or jail.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Glenda Susie Breese

That is exactly right. The very reason you tax at the top of the food chain then you ask the general income people for a fair and just tax. Seniors such as my self should have been exempt from the food sales tax when the Brownback stole our homestead tax refund. Talk about stuck on stupid.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Francis Hunt

Deborah, you might want to do some homework on this.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Rick Mullen

"Forced to use property taxes..."??? Sounds like some fear mongering and threats being throw around by our County Commissioners. They can't "advocate or encourage a yes vote", but oh they sure can hold the tax payers over a barrel! Voters are being held ransom by our elected officials to push through their own agenda of jail expansion. I hope the people of Douglas County see through this charade. I say a jail expansion vote failure would be a clear message to our county commissioners to re-evaluate rather than cram something down our throats. Maybe then the proper time, attention and resources would be given to alternatives to incarceration and voters could then vote on a mental health crisis center on it's own, which has been asked for from the beginning.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Ryan Hickman

Deborah,

I believe the county can increase property taxes to provide for the county jail without a referendum due to its statutory obligation to provide for the jail. It is this "obligation" that the county is using to bully the voters to try and frighten them into a $44 million jail expansion with ongoing expenses of over $6.2 million a year and bond payments with interests accounting for millions more. Please note that the county could fulfill this obligation through many many different reforms that cost MILLIONS LESS than their precious jail.

So, Francis may want you to do some homework but by and large you are correct. The county is holding voters hostage by failing to really study and implement alternatives to incarceration.

The Democrats and Progressives in our community should vote this measure down on principle as it funds the school to prison pipeline directly contradicting the party platform. The Republicans should vote it down on economic and moral reasons if they study the issues surrounding mass incarceration. Libertarians will probably vote against it for all the reasons above. And everyone should vote out the commissioners who believe it is ok to threaten the citizens of our county with not caring for the mentally ill unless we agree to their ridiculous vision of mass incarceration. We can and must do better.

In the meantime, farming out extra prisoners costs less than $1.5 million/year. A relative bargain and still meeting the "statutory obligation". Thus proving there are many ways to meet your statutory obligations.

I keep wondering if the county has done a study to determine how much money they can make by hosting prisoners from other counties. There has to be a monetary reason they want a bigger jail. Things that make you go HMMMM.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Deborah Snyder

Thank-you for the information on forcing a property tax hike without voter approval. Such a threat, however, would have to stand on the honest merits, though, wouldn't it?

It truly appears to me that we are being presented with the Cart before the Horse, and being bullied, manipulated and divided against each other as a diversion from looking at *all the options* available to us to vote on!

The city and county both admitted that these two issues could have been separated from the start. Establishing whether (and by how much) the impact of FIRST creating a separate mental health facility for your prison population would seem to be an important step to take before bawling and bellowing "Statutory Obligation! Statutory Obligation!" doncha think??

1 week, 3 days ago

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Steve Jacob

Adding 2,500 people a year, the jail is needed. Farming out may not be an option in the future. I see trailers on the property in the future. Everyone just needs to stop complaining about the jail and metal health unit and accept that's on on the ballot together, what's done is done. And vote however you want. Voters should also know what happens if it does not pass.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Deborah Snyder

It's de tails, de tails!! I'm sorry for another error by including city officials as part of this referendum. [*sigh*]

1 week, 3 days ago

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