Voters will be asked on March 18th whether Madison County has the authority to issue an estimated $18 million in bonds to renovate the county jail. The Madison County Board has proposed this project to do major repair and renovation to the jail facility. It believes the work is necessary on this aging facility that shows major deterioration, has critical safety issues, and lacks the proper support facilities for its operations.
The issue is not the project, but how to pay for it. Whether to utilize bonds and complete the project in a cost- efficient, timely manner or whether to renovate the jail over a period of time that could extend to 10 years and be more costly to taxpayers.
Rightfully, Madison County residents want to know what impact this project will have on their respective property taxes before they decide how to vote on the issue.
If the referendum is approved by voters, the County Board will pay for the project by using existing property tax revenue, avoiding a property tax increase by shifting funds from the General Fund Tax Levy and the Jail Bond Tax Levy into a new debt service fund. The net effect on taxpayers will be no change in the amount of money the county collects because of the jail project.
If voters do not approve the issuance of the bonds, the county will still be required to fix the problems at the jail. We will still use the same money that would be reserved for the jail bond debt service to pay for the project on a more costly, year-by-year basis.
During this time, the costly on-going maintenance of deteriorated systems would continue to be incurred, construction inflation would drive up the cost of the improvements, and construction efficiencies associated with a single project would be lost.
Madison County government is financially well-managed. Cost reductions in county government and the retirement of the existing jail bonds in 2015 gives us the capability to complete this project utilizing existing revenues. The county also has more than $8 million in other capital projects scheduled for the next two years, including some major work on our almost 100-year old courthouse. The funds to do these projects have been set aside through savings. No financing is necessary to complete them.
I believe the issuance of bonds to perform the jail renovations using existing property tax revenue, without increasing taxes, is the most financially prudent way to meet our obligation to our taxpayers to operate and maintain a facility that is a critical part of our criminal justice system.
Dunstan is chairman of the Madison County Board.