(from news release)
The Stearns County Board of Commissioners voted to consider the use of a sales tax to fund the cost of building a new Stearns County jail/justice center but only if voters agree to a referendum for that tax on next year’s ballot in November.
The county board’s action made that vote referendum possible to be placed on the ballot.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Legislature approved the county’s use of a local-option sales tax of three-eighths of one percent to fund the project up to $325 million. At their board meeting, commissioners agreed to use the sales tax as an option to pay for the facility.
That board action means the county can now put the question before the voters. In a referendum on next year’s ballot, in November, voters can decide if they want the justice center to be funded through a sales tax or if they prefer to pay for construction through property taxes.
Using a sales tax will take the funding burden off Stearns County property taxpayers. It is estimated 50 percent of the revenue generated through a sales tax would come from non-Stearns County residents. That matches the Stearns County demographics of the county jail’s inmates, of which 50 percent are non-Stearns County residents.
“Either way, Stearns County needs to build a new jail,” said Stearns County Administrator Michael Willims. “It’s a question of whether to pay for it through Stearns County property taxes or a sales tax. The county board does not want to fund this regional facility with the property tax because it makes more sense to spread the burden to the region by using the sales tax.”
The state continues to tell the county it must build a new facility, as the current jail is operationally obsolete, over capacity, inefficient, undersized and does not allow for special treatment and offender recovery.
The county is in the process of obtaining an architectural team and a construction management firm to design a new facility. From there, a decision will be made on the location of the facility, layout of the building and services and offices to be included. Once those decisions are made, the cost can be determined.