Sales tax for jail repair, expansion to be on Perry Co. ballot

Thursday, January 25, 2007

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- Perry County voters will decide April 3 whether to approve a three-eighths-cent sales tax to pay for expansion and repairs at the county jail.

County commissioners voted Monday to put the tax, which will last five years, on the ballot. The tax will raise about $850,000 annually, Commissioner Patrick Naeger said, The project is anticipated to cost $3.5 million, Naeger said, and any excess will be reserved to cover unexpected costs as the project proceeds.

The jail was built in 1989, but has serious problems and limited space, Naeger said. "It has a lot of mechanical problems," he said, including a leaky roof that has defied attempts at repair.

The jail was built to house 16 prisoners, Sheriff Gary Schaaf said. By adding an extra bed to each cell and converting a workout room to a dormitory-type cell, the capacity was increased to 40.

But the jail still doesn't have enough space, Schaaf said. By using cots, as many as 53 prisoners have been housed there, he said.

"We haven't gotten to the point since I've been here where we have farmed prisoners out to other counties," Schaaf said.

Through a combination of state payments for housing prisoners, charges to work-release inmates and payments for taking care of prisoners facing federal charges, the jail covers the county's annual expenses and even makes money, Schaaf said. But if the county lost the ability to house federal prisoners because of crowding, he said, the jail could quickly become a drain on the county's budget.

"When it was built 20 years ago, it was what they thought they needed," Schaaf said.

Plans for the jail include rebuilding the roof, adding additional cells including a dormitory section for up to 28 weekend prisoners and two additional holding cells, Schaaf said. "We've been dancing with this for over a year," he said. "I don't think the guy who designed it ever had any experience in jails. There was not so much as a closet built into this place."

If approved, the tax would increase the total sales tax in Perryville to 7.85 percent and in unincorporated areas of the county, the tax would be 5.975 percent.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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