Greene County officials are making their case for passage of a ½-cent sales tax proposal before voters in November.
Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin shared details of the measure at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Springfield event Thursday. Earlier this week, the county released an itemized breakdown of how it would allocate the funding, if approved.
“Most of you know a lot of the needs,” Cirtin said. “You’ve been hearing this four letter word being batted around for years. The four letter word is ‘jail.’ And so you understand some of our needs.”
The county’s $138 million budget, according to Cirtin, includes $90 million in voter designated funds. A majority of the more than $40 million left over to pay bills goes toward jail and criminal justice system expenses.
Yet the county says more funds are needed in order to expand the current jail, enable courts renovation, make more evidence storage space, and pay for personnel and utilities. Upping the county’s sales tax from 1.25 to 1.75 percent would allow officials to meet these goals, says Cirtin.
“56 percent [of the new tax revenue] you can see the lion’s share is criminal justice. Not just the jail, but courts, prosecutor, everybody.”
The current jail capacity is 601. This year, Greene County is spending $2 million just to transport inmates beyond that number to five neighboring jails. If approved by voters, expansion and/or renovation of the Greene County Justice Center would add 806 beds, bringing capacity to not exceed 1,407 beds. The design of the facility will be to allow future additions, if needed.
Extra tax revenue would also support treatment courts and community mental health initiatives in hopes of decreasing the influx of prisoners.
“About 70 percent of the almost 800 people that we’re incarcerating; around 70 percent have some kind of mental illness disease or defect,” says Cirtin. “We have to deal with that.”
Cirtin notes the jail and the criminal justice system are not the county’s only needs. It would also like to dedicate funding toward reinstating a now void animal control unit, and funding for other Greene County municipalities to support projects like sidewalks and flood control. Aside from the 56 percent toward criminal justice, the sales tax plan allocates six percent for environmental mandates, 25 percent for capital projects, and 11 percent for community initiatives.
Greene County is already preparing to slash $3 million from its 2018 budget, Cirtin said. Failure to approve the ½-cent measure would put further strain on funding.
In August, two of the county’s three commissioners voted to place the item on the November ballot, siding with a Financial Advisory Task Force report suggesting the ½-cent measure.
The question before Greene County voters on the Nov. 7 special election ballot asks “Shall the County of Greene impose a county-wide sales tax of one-half (1/2) of one (1%) percent for the purpose of general revenue?”
Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu