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Jackson Jail Upgrades: Is a Millage the Way?

Is a tax increase the best way to fund upgrades to the County's jails, or are there alternatives?
Posted at 9:01 PM, Jun 24, 2024
  • The Jackson County Sheriff is asking for voters to approve a millage on August 6th to upgrade the County's jails.
  • County Commissioner Earl Poleski says a millage is the only way to make essential upgrades.
  • Former mayoral candidate and local influencer John Wilson suggests alternatives.
  • Video shows the two of them commenting on the proposed millage.

(The following is a transcription of the broadcast story with some additional material)

The Jackson County Sheriff says our County jails are in dire need of an upgrade. But not everyone is convinced a tax increase is the way to go.

“There are other funding mechanisms that County officials should have, by now, already secured,” says former mayoral candidate and local influencer John Wilson.

Wilson agrees Jackson County jails need upgrades. But he thinks the County should have been working on alternatives to a millage since the last one failed two years ago — a mix of state and federal funding, borrowing, and tapping the County’s reserve fund.

“You have the American Infrastructure Act. And those are federal dollars. Those dollars were allocated to the states to be used for various projects, including jails,” says Wilson.

Not so, says Jackson County Commissioner Earl Poleski:

“That’s not available to us at the moment. No state funding is available. A jail is a fundamental county function, and the County has to take care of doing that.”

As for American Rescue Plan Act funds or funds from the County’s reserve, those, says Poleski, would not suffice.

“We as a county have to fund the jail," maintains Poleski. "Nobody likes paying property taxes. I get that. Everybody hates property taxes, for sure. But it’s important to be safe here in Jackson County.”

Wilson isn’t buying it.

“There’s county jails in Michigan that have received funding for jail renovations, jail additions. There’s a brand new jail in Greene County, Ohio that was built by federal dollars, their general fund dollars, and bonding.”

This debate comes as we've told you about some of the issues at Jackson County jails.

Law enforcement has told us that poor conditions and overcrowding continue to create problems.

On August 6th, taxpayers will be asked to approve a mill of 0.9 — meaning it would cost an owner of a $200,000 home approximately $90 per year — to fund County jail upgrades and operations.

Wilson is convinced that the County will find ways to upgrade without a millage. Poleski says: not likely.

“We would certainly not be able to build the jail at Chanter Road," says Poleski, referring to plans for an enlarged facility there. "We would have to continue to use this building [on Wesley Street] for the foreseeable future."

The other problem, says Poleski, is operating expenses.

“If we don’t have the operation dollars that the millage also includes, that’s a $1.5M in funding that we will either not spend, or spend from some other program that the County does. And we don’t have any programs at the County that we don’t think are important.”

Wilson notes: “They have no problem finding grant dollars for a new farmers market, grant dollars for endless walking and biking paths, which I consider — all of it — non-essential government spending. It’s nice to have. But a jail is essential.”

Catch up on our previous stories about the Jackson County Jail Millage:

How a new Jackson County Jail will solve overcrowding and security issues

How taxpayers will be tasked with decisions in regards to public safety on the 2024 ballot

Millage for Jackson County jail renovations to show up on ballots in 2024

A walk through the "inhumane conditions" at a Jackson County jail

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