Jackson County has plans for a new jail possibly to be under construction by the end of 2019. County legislators on Monday moved ahead with a higher tax levy for 2019 to begin paying for that work.
Tax bills vary across the county because of different taxing jurisdictions – cities, schools, fire districts – but in general the increase should be less than 3 percent, officials said. On a $100,000 house, that’s roughly $41.
Legislators voted unanimously on Monday to raise the county levy by reversing what officials are calling “prior year voluntary reductions.” Those date to the Great Recession 10 years ago when the county, under state law, could have raised its levy to keep revenues steady but chose instead to make do at that time even as property values were falling and property taxes falling with them. Property values have since recovered.
Now the county is rolling that higher rate into effect. Officials estimate it will bring in another $19.5 million a year, and the county is setting that aside for jail costs – both to buy land and service the debt on new bonds for a new jail as well as to pay for needed work at the County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.
The county’s tentative timeline is this:
• Spend the rest of this year reviewing reports coming in soon – one from a consultant and one from a task force that County Executive Frank White Jr. appointed in late 2017. Both are expected to say, as other consultants have said, that a new jail is needed. Also, by the end of the year the county would hire a financial adviser for the jail project and acquire purchase options for potential jail sites.
• The county would solicit bids for designing and building a new jail in early 2019, and that contractor would be selected by the end of May.
• The county would, in the last seven months of 2019, select a site, select a design, issue bonds, and start construction.
Still, Legislature Chairman Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City, said sometimes land acquisition can stretch out a couple years.
“That puts us at starting a new jail in 2022,” he said.
Chief Administrative Officer Ed Stoll said he hopes it could go more quickly than that but agreed that there can be hangups. He said the timeline is to get the conversation moving.
Although officials have generally talked about a new jail in or near downtown Kansas City, Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, said both Kansas City and a private landowner have sites near Interstate 435 and Truman Road that they would be interested in having the county consider.
But Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said as she’s been out campaigning this year voters have made it clear that a jail that’s readily accessible for families and others is key priority.
“I think we need to have community input,” she said – and Stoll agreed.
Legislators also ruled out having a private company run the jail.
“If that’s on the table, I’m a no,” said Alfred Jordan, D-Kansas City.