Although county officials told constituents as of Nov. 1 the ordinance proposing a tax increase would go on the November 2020 General Election ballot, the county fiscal court had a first reading of Ordinance 19-21 Tuesday morning that would rescind the original ordinance, and therefore repeal the tax increase, altogether.
On Nov. 1, it was announced that the petition circulated to stop the proposed 11.4 cent per $100 increase had been certified with the necessary 3,780 signatures.
After which point, the County Judge/Executive’s office sent out a release stating that no amendments would be made, and the ordinance would be placed on the 2020 ballot.
The new proposed ordinance would repeal ordinance 19-14, enact the county’s tax rate to 8.3 cents per $100 for 2019 and allow the fiscal court to continue to advocate at the local, state and national levels for criminal justice and tax reforms.
“I don’t think that is right because these people got out here and worked very hard to get this petition and I think we need to give them the opportunity to vote yes or no,” Magistrate Larry Combs said.
Originally, Combs was the only one who voted against the tax increase in the first ordinance in both readings.
“I have one vote and that’s all I have got, but there are about 7,000 more that sure would like to vote on it, and I would like to see them vote on it,” Combs continued. “It doesn’t affect us one way or the other.”
Magistrate John Tudor stated that Combs “wasn’t for (the increase) the first time,” to which Combs promptly replied, “And I won’t be for it again.”
“You think the public is going to vote for a tax increase on the ballot,” Tudor asked. “Probably not... We’ve heard (their concerns) and we are willing to take it off the ballot, but we still have to pay for housing inmates in other counties. We still have to pay the bills though we aren’t getting the increase on the property tax.”
The petition against the 11-cent proposed property tax increase was filed in September by a group of five citizens in the hopes to stop the tax increase, which was approved by the fiscal court in the hopes to help fund a $45 million jail facility.
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In other business, Jailer Steve Tussey gave an update about the Madison County Detention Center to the court stating that, as of Tuesday morning, the county is responsible for 522 inmates with 380 in-house, 54 on home incarceration and 88 inmates in contracted housing.
Tussey recognized the staff in the jail, commending them for seizing drugs and stopping several drug introductions lately through intelligence and follow-ups.
“We have gotten rid of a lot of drugs in the jail, in particular there was a drug drop at the hospital,” he said.
He said an inmate was taken to the hospital where a drug deal was attempted and intercepted by jail employees. Tussey reported the dealers were arrested along with additional charges cited for the inmate that had faked a trip to the hospital to receive the drugs.
Several others inside the jail were reported smuggling drugs with jailers retrieving four large bags of crystal meth. Those inmates have been given additional citations and the drugs seized.
A female inmate also overdose Sunday inside the jail and was revived with Narcan and is back in the jail and “doing well,” according to Tussey.
He told the court that next week he will begin meetings with the National Institute of Corrections who will assist the jail in evaluating the criminal justice system in Madison County to see anything that has an effect on the jail count and see how they can save money and lower numbers in the jail.
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County attorney Jennie Haymond gave the court an update on the rocket docket procedure, which she introduced back in January.
“The rocket docket, for lack of a better term, is a rocket docket to expedite someone from circuit court with a felony drug charge, or drug possession charge through circuit court to get them through a faster sentencing,” Haymond explained.
When originally presented, the average time for a case to get through the system was 60 days, which Haymond said she could lower to 30 days with the new program.
Since February and through October, Haymond reports that 90 people have been selected for the rocket docket program with 81 of those having already been sentenced.
The average number of days from arrest to sentencing for those 81 individuals was 17.91 days, beating the 30-day average and saving the county approximately $406,782.
Instead of costing $450,000 for the 81 inmates at an average of $31 a day to be housed for 180 days in jail, they have cost only $45,000 to be housed by participating in the program.
She said the program started out a little slow, but as time has gone on the rocket docket has picked up seeing more and more people are able to be put through it.
“Unfortunately we are still seeing really long dockets,” she said.
This is in part due to felony drug crimes being coupled with other charges that make an inmate ineligible to participate in the rocket docket program such as violent crimes or theft.
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The court approved the first readings of two land-use change ordinances for 1194 Goggins Lane. The first was for 22.4 acres to be changed from UC-7 (agricultural) to UC-1 (single-family residential). The second was for 39.6 acres from UC-7 to UC-2 (multi-family residential).
The next fiscal court meeting will be held Nov. 26 at 9:30 a.m. at the Madison County Courthouse located at 101 West Main Street in Richmond.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.