To say that this has been a challenging three weeks would be an understatement. By now, I don't think there is a person in Madison County who is unaware of the jail crisis facing our community and the financial strain it has caused.
Our county is the place where my family has lived for over eight generations, where my wife and I met, where my daughters are raised, and where my hope to build a better Madison County as Judge/Executive is rooted.
So, I am sure you can imagine, how difficult it is, walking into a county that was financially struggling more than anyone ever knew. Honestly, more than I knew when I ran for Judge/Executive. Add to that the additional financial impacts of the pension and jail crisis, as well as planning for the end of the CSEPP funding.
My coworkers and I have worked for the last five years and have saved over $5 million, putting countless policies and procedures in place to ensure equity and transparency for taxpayers, advocating in Frankfort and Washington in hopes to be part of solutions to improve our county especially in the areas of tax and criminal justice reform.
As a county of over 90,000 people with two strong cities, an interstate running through the center and the gateway to Eastern Kentucky and down the road from Lexington, we are unique in so many ways. We are a county that unlike many of our fellow counties has grown and developed at a rate faster than most imagined. And while this has been a leading factor to us becoming the 4th fastest growing county in Kentucky, it has put a financial strain on the limited resources available to serve the needs to our county.
This month, our Court took a vote that none of us wanted to take, but one we felt we had to take to ensure the financial solvency of our county. We have worked to tell our story. We formed the 2015/2016 Jail Task Force that identified a jail overcrowding and drug issue in our county. We took that data and recommended a new approach to alternative sentencing with a rehabilitation center proposal that addressed treatment rather than solely investing in a detention center. We talked about the crisis on television, radio, in the newspaper, we put it on Facebook. In the minds of our Fiscal Court and our staff, we truly thought we were communicating about our crisis to citizens.
And then in January of this year, an already dangerously high inmate number in our 184-bed facility was compounded with another alarming trend. We had an unprecedented number of people being arrested and housed in our facility -- 100 more than last year. That 100 additional inmates will, this year alone, cost Madison County taxpayers an additional $1.2 million that we had to pull from our limited emergency reserve.
Why is the inmate number jumping? No one can tell me why. The state can't tell me, the Jailer can't tell me, the Sheriff can't tell me, the County Attorney can't tell me, the judges can't tell me. All I can tell you is that whatever the reason -- it is impacting our county in a way that no one could have known.
The magistrates and I all consider ourselves financially conservative people. We have done everything in our power to try to prevent having to raise taxes. We have hoped for years to have reforms at the state and federal levels and to date, it simply hasn't happened. We were forced to take action.
Solutions to our financial crisis are limited. Whether we build a jail or relocate inmates to other counties, one thing remains true. We simply do not have the money to pay for either of those options. We are in a place where we are going to have to make some tough decisions.
And as I mentioned before, while we had the best intentions of communicating the issues facing our community, what has become clear by the immense response from our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens is that we could have done better. We need to share with you what we are up against, what options we have, where we go from here. We need to have that conversation together as a community.
We need to address questions about the price difference between the Laurel Detention Center and the Madison County proposal, the number of properties Madison County owns and who we lease to, how to calculate your proposed tax bill, the proposed location of the proposed jail, why we purchased the Chase Bank Building, to name a few.
Over the next few months, we will be focused on answering your questions. We will post those questions with the answers at www.madisoncountyky.us/publicsafety. If you have questions you want answered, email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I have learned anything from this experience, it is that this is not a Fiscal Court problem, this is our community's problem. In the past weeks, I have been thankful for the support from citizens who have reached out whether we agree on the current path or not and I have been encouraged by the community's engagement on this issue. The willingness of citizens to join with us in shaping the future of our county is what we must have to address this crisis. I want you to know that your elected officials are listening. Together, I feel confident we can continue to build a better Madison County!