Two weeks after the Madison County Fiscal Court announced a proposed property tax rate that would increase the current rates by 139% to finance a new detention facility, county taxpayers had their last chance to voice their concerns before court officials made their final vote Tuesday afternoon.
One-by-one, 28 citizens from across the county voiced their concerns regarding the amount of the increase, whether or not an increase was the right option to finance a new or expanded facility and if a new jail would come close to solving the Madison County Detention Center’s overcrowding problem.
The increased rate was approved with Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor and Magistrates Tom Botkin, John Tudor and Roger Barger all voting in favor of the tax increase. Magistrate Larry Combs voted against it, leaving the final count four to one.
Many citizens stated that while a jail is necessary, that they did not agree with the amount of the increase.
“I don’t mind paying for a jail as it is a requirement in an organized society,” one resident said. “What I do mind is paying for something not needed...I’m willing to pay my part, but I want to see that the people who are making decisions are making fair decisions and spending my money in a way that is efficient.”
Citizen David Harkle agreed, saying he supported the jail, and that while he doesn’t enjoy an increase in taxes, it needed to be done to solve this worsening county crisis.
Tudor was the first to give his reasoning behind voting yes, saying that it was past time to act on the issue.
“Ten years down the road, it is time we act,” he said. “The can has been kicked down the road long enough. Now we have a huge barrel that no one wants to do anything about…
“The proposal we have made hits most in line with addressing the needs of the county, while adhering to a mandated law from the state. This is a tough decision… You need to realize that our hands are tied in many ways. We are constricted by those with more power than this court.”
Combs, who has been on the court for nearly 40 years, explained his reasoning for voting against the tax saying that while he would be the first magistrate to admit that something needed to be done about the jail, this tax increase wasn’t the ticket.
“I have never voted for a tax increase, I could have voted for a smaller one this year, but I can’t vote for this one,” he said. “....I want to do more for the jail, don’t get me wrong, I want to do more. But I am not going to do this just to say we have done something.”
Botkin made mention of the armory in his explanation for his “yes” vote, saying that while it will be looked at by both Taylor and the Department of Corrections as to if it could be used, it would still end up costing millions of dollars in the long run to retrofit, operate and staff.
“Ultimately, state law says that if prisoners are arrested in Madison County, they go to the Madison County Detention Center. It also says that the fiscal court supports the jailer and the detention center, so for that reason, I support this,” Botkin said.
Barger said that while many people contributed other options as to what the county could do instead of the tax increase, a lot of the suggestions weren’t legally feasible in the eyes of the state as to what the county can do.
“Folks, we can’t use 99% of the ideas you all have because the law won’t let us, it is out of our hands,” Barger said. “We can’t do it because the law won’t let us, it is a state controlled issue... We have to do something. We need a jail, and I am for the jail.”
Last was Taylor, who said that the most unfortunate part of the entire situation was that it took a tax increase to bring awareness to a serious problem that had been ongoing in the community well before the current administration.
“It is also unfortunate that citizens of this county don’t know anymore about the local government and how it works, than they do,” he said. “We have a double edged sword being swung at us, and we are just trying to figure out which side is the dullest to get hit with. It does not matter what we decide here today -- it is wrong for us.”
Since 1966, the county’s tax rate has remained unchanged — currently at 8.2 cents per $100. With the passing of this ordinance, the rate will climb by 11.4 cents, making the final rate 19.6 cents per $100.
County officials proposed this increase as one of their last options to help build a proposed $45 million jail, which they believe will solve the ongoing issue with overcrowding at the MCDC, which is at 208% capacity.
With the rate exceeding a 4% tax revenue increase, it is subject to a recall. Citizens have stated they are planning to file a referendum to recall the rise in property taxes which would land the ordinance on the November 2020 ballot for a vote.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.