Janet Barber

Grove Sun

JAY – A special meeting of the Delaware County Public Facilities Authority at the Jay Community Center Thursday night turned into a heated debate over how to fund the construction of a new detention facility in Delaware County.

The purpose of the meeting was to allow representatives from the communities in Delaware County to voice their opinions concerning which of the six options offered by the authority would be the one that they felt their constituencies would support.

The six options are as follows:

1. Jay Industrial Park, 228-bed facility at a total cost of $11,322,004 or $49,658 per bed cost.

2. Jay Industrial Park, 221-bed facility at a total cost of $10,915,092 or $51,976 per bed cost.

3. Jay Industrial Park, 174-bed facility at a total cost of $10,515,092 or $60,431 per bed cost.

4. NW section of the courthouse, 184-bed facility at a total cost of $10,079,619 or $54,761 per bed cost.

5. Courthouse basement, 36-beds at a total cost of $1,319,497 or $36,653 per bed cost.

According to members of the authority, these costs reflect an earlier estimate and the true cost could be considerably more.

Kansas Mayor Jack Stonecipher spoke first. “Anything less than Option #1 is a band-aid. I’ve talked to the people in my community and do not want a property tax. We feel the sales tax is the only fair way.”

Colcord’s City Clerk Pat Upton spoke for the city of Colcord saying they agree with Jack on his choice of Option #1 with a sales tax increase.

West Siloam Springs Mayor Elaine Carr concurred claiming they are taking prisoners to Adair County now due to the overcrowding situation in the jail.

Jay Mayor Wayne Dunham said their council had met Monday night and went over the options. He relayed to the trust that the only Option was #1 with a sales tax increase.

“Nobody likes taxes, but let’s fix it and fix it right so we don’t have to worry about it, hopefully our grandkids won’t have to worry about it. Shame on us for not fixing it right the first time, we built a big courthouse, added on to the courthouse, built some big nice offices and put the jail in the closet,” he said.

He went on to add that tourists traveling through the county spend their money here and that will help fund the facility.

Mayors from Oaks and Bernice were heard next, both towns agreeing with the votes thus far.

Grove’s City Manager, Bruce Johnson, presented a resolution to support none of the options, which was unanimously signed at the Grove City Council meeting October 19th. He then left the building.

Cowskin community representative Tom Woody, rallied with the last vote cast with the majority for Option #1 with sales tax funding.

District Attorney Eddie Wyant took the floor after the vote and gave the crowd an update on the pending lawsuit filed in 2006 by the State Department of Health against Delaware County and its jail overcrowding violation.

“The long and short of it is they don’t want to fine us. They can fine us up to $10,000 day, but they don’t want to fine us. On the other hand, I have heard people say they’re not going to fine us. This has resonated to Oklahoma City and I have been in front of the judge and he wanted me to make sure that I take the message back to Delaware County that he will fine us if we don’t find a solution to this problem, ” Wyant said.

Wyant stated that the lawsuit doesn’t go away if they fine the county.

“You still have the problem with the jail, you haven’t solved anything. It doesn’t go away. It continues until the problem is resolved. They are going to give us one more opportunity to go back to the voters one more time. If the vote fails, 10 days after the election we will have a hearing in Oklahoma City,” he said.

He went on to explain about the needs for a larger detention facility comparing populations with Craig, Ottawa and Delaware Counties.

“I looked it up on the internet. Craig County has an estimated population of 15,000 people, Ottawa County, 32,000 and Delaware County comes in under 40,000. The estimated growth for 2004 was a 4% decrease for both Craig and Ottawa Counties and an increase of almost 5% for Delaware County. Craig County’s jail can house 120 prisoners, Ottawa can house 124 and Delaware has 61 beds. The Delaware County jail is just not big enough for our population,” he explained.

District #1 Commissioner Ken Crowder read the resolution signed by Grove City Council into the record.

It said that 58% of sales tax collection would come from Grove and recommended that the Delaware County Pubic Facilities Authority and the County Commissioners should rescind county sales tax collected for the fire departments and the solid waste department that would equal what is needed for the funding of the jail.

It further stated that the actual building of the jail could be funded by ad valorem taxes.

Crowder said if the fire department tax were rescinded, three quarters of the fire departments, which own money on lease purchased equipment, would have to close.

Stonecipher said that if the money were taken from solid waste, the roads would once again be littered like they were before the Green Boxes were installed.

Grove City Council member Mike Davenport asked the board if they would look into it and see if it’s possible.

“I can tell you right now that Grove will not support a tax increase and we’ll get out and work just as hard to push it down as you are to get it passed. Grove’s not saying we don’t need a jail. Grove doesn’t need to support the jail. People in South Delaware County buy their groceries in Siloam Springs. We buy our groceries in Grove. We will not support a sales tax,” he said.

Wyant said the fact that construction could be done with ad valorem taxes, but the maintenance and operation would have to be paid for by sales tax.

He said Ad Valorem would have to be passed with a 60% majority vote. Voters would have to pass both the ad valorem and sales tax should they split the funding. A simple majority would be needed to pass a straight sales tax option.

Sheriff Jay Blackfox said that currently his department is holding felons only and that they are working to release those charged with misdemeanors, but are still averaging 75 prisoners.

Several more issues were discussed including contracting a commercial firm to see into the possibility of a state run jail, funding from the Cherokee Nation, stimulus money and housing doc prisoners.

Wrapping the meeting up, Wyant was asked how long it would take for the fine to show up on tax rolls.

He said possibly two years.

“We’re running out of time. Ten days after the next election, I will have to defend a case that has no defense. I will file appeals so it will probably take up to 2 years. They want it tried,” he concluded.