Sharp County voters approved a 1/4-cent sales tax for capital improvements in the Nov. 18 election. Now the quorum court is preparing to roll back the millage rate 1.95 mills as promised.
The tax passed 957-488.
"Judging from the results, it looks like the county felt pretty confident in passing the tax," said JP Darrell Kehrli, chairman of the county Tax Committee. "It's a good choice for the county and the property owners."
The county asked for the sales tax to replace the millage increase which was implemented by the quorum court in December 2002 to take care of county budget shortfalls and to provide the funding for a new justice complex.
Kehrli said the millage rate will be reduced from the maximum 5 mills to 3.05 mills at the end of the year. Last month the quorum court adopted a resolution promising not to raise the county millage rate for at least two years if the voters approved the two-year sales tax hike. The tax will become effective Jan. 1, 2004, and will be implemented for two years.
The tax is expected to generate $357,000 each year, with 100 percent going to the county's general fund for capital improvements. Raising the millage rate from 3.05 mills to 5 mills generates approximately $271,000 per year, Kehrli said.
JP Greg Prenger Prenger said he thinks the 1/4-cent tax is the best option to gain more revenue for the county to improve facilities.
"I think it's the best way to go. For years people have wanted their property taxes lowered, and this tax will roll off in two years," Prenger said. "It's going to save the property owner quite a bit of money."
Kehrli said a sales tax spreads the responsibility more evenly to all residents and non-residents of the county rather than forcing only property owners to fund the new complex and make additional improvements to county facilities.
After the millage increase was established, the county began constructing a new building to take care of some of the county's space problems.
A 4,800-square-foot justice complex, located adjacent to the courthouse and the sheriff's office in Ash Flat, is almost complete and will supply offices for the sheriff, chief deputy and investigators. It will also include offices for the deputy prosecuting attorney and the third circuit judge of the 3rd Judicial District. It will include a second courtroom, a jury room, an interview room, a deputies' room and a secure area into which deputies can drive to deliver prisoners, connected to the sheriff's department. The complex, which will connect to the courthouse by a corridor through the current 9-1-1 Central Dispatch office, will include handicap-accessible restrooms. There are none in the existing building. It will also include a sidewalk with a covered canopy linking the jury room to the existing courtroom. The building is expected to be completed by Jan. 1.
"The biggest thing is the building we've already committed to," Kehrli said. "It is almost finished and now we have to look at what has to be done to complete the moving process."
The Central Dispatch office is to be moved from the courthouse into the Sheriff's Office to connect the new building to the courthouse when it is complete. The office is located in what will become a hallway linking the courthouse to the new building. The county's 9-1-1 Coordinator, Debby Wells, said the county has experienced numerous problems with the county's current computers, software and service provider, 9-1-1 Inc. She said a new system is needed to be contracted before Central Dispatch makes the move to make the transition easier.
Jail Administrator Jay English has been researching companies that deal with 9-1-1 systems to get Sharp County the most for their money. English presented the court with a summary of four companies that are interested in providing 9-1-1 service to the county during the October quorum court meeting. The prices for the new equipment range in price from $50,000 to $95,185. The court will address the situation soon, Kehrli said.
Prenger said another one of the county's top priorities is the county jail. He said the court hopes to conduct a feasibility study on the existing jail to see what improvements should be made.
"We've got to do something with the jail," Prenger said.
Sheriff Dale Weaver said a 100-bed jail would take care of the needs of the county for the next 10-15 years. The county has been written up repeatedly by state jail standards inspectors for inadequate space.