Residents of Franklin County can look forward to getting a new jail facility after a special election Tuesday.
Franklin County voters decided to pass two sales-and-use taxes during the election. In a special meeting April 24, the Franklin County Quorum Court passed two ordinances to put two issues before voters. The ordinances called for levying a one-eighth cent sales-and-use tax for operation and maintenance of a new detention center and a three-eighths sales tax to pay for construction of the jail. The second ordinance also allows the county to issue $9 million in bonds to build, staff and equip the new jail. After the bonds are retired, the three-eights cent tax will expire.
According to unofficial results from the Franklin County Clerk's office, 65.67 percent of voters, or 1,318, voted in favor of the first tax while 34.33 percent, or 689, voted against it. As for the second tax, 1,346 voters, or 67.17 percent, voted in favor of it while 658 voters, or 32.83 percent, voted against it. Voter turnout for the election was at 20.92 percent of registered voters.
Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Boen said employees of the Sheriff's Office, as well as surrounding law enforcement agencies, are especially excited about getting a new jail facility and added it was a long time coming.
"... A lot of employees are excited that they're going to be able to keep their jobs, and I think it's something that, you know, we all hate to pay taxes and it seems like we're taxed to death and money is short, but ... I think citizens of Franklin County know it's a part of the growing process, and it's something that had to be done, and I felt that they would do the right thing to get it passed, ..." Boen said.
Franklin County Judge Rickey Bowman said in a previous article the taxes were necessary because of a variety of problems with the current Franklin County jail, which was built in 1974 and does not meet minimum Arkansas state jail standards according to the 5th Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee.
Boen said the new facility will have 92 beds while the current facility has a capacity for around 30 inmates. One of the features the new facility will be the ability to separate certain inmates, whether it be sex offenders, those who are on suicide watch, those with mental illness and others. This will make the facility safer for both inmates and employees. The new facility will also be capable of expansion, among other benefits.
"... And then as far as maintenance, ... we spend thousands of dollars a month on the upkeep of the current facility," Boen said. "Whether it be from the electrical failing or the plumbing, we're just always having issues, so it's going to be nice to have the convenience of all up-to-date equipment, and ... it's going to make our jobs a lot easier."
The new sales-and-use taxes will not take effect until Jan. 1, Boen said.
The Tennessee-based company SouthBuild Team worked to develop a concept for a new jail design in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office. Bowman said Franklin County is hopeful for SouthBuild to be ready to break ground on the new facility around February. The county expects to move into the facility in late fall or early winter in 2019. The cost to build the new facility is projected to be at $7.5 million, although that amount will be accompanied by additional fees.
"The ballot called for $9 million of bonds," Bowman said. "We don't expect to issue all those bonds. That number was actually derived before we had good numbers from SouthBuild."
Bowman also confirmed by state statute that the one-eighth cent sales-and-use tax will have to be shared with the other cities in the county. The new facility will be located at 300 Airport Road in Ozark.