Members of the Van Buren City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to support a sales tax proposal to fund a $20 million Crawford County Detention Center.
In the May 20 primary election, county voters will decide the fate of the sales tax to build a 270-bed jail at 4301 U.S. 64 to replace the existing 88-bed jail in downtown Van Buren. Voters will consider a half-percent of the tax for the purchase of land and construction costs that would sunset in 10 years and also a permanent quarter-percent to cover operation and maintenance.
"This is a situation that is not going to fix itself," Mayor Bob Freeman said. "The whole county needs to step up for public safety, address the issue and move on."
City Attorney Candice Settle pointed out the county is facing a crisis situation because "people who need to be in jail are being let out left and right since there is no place to put them."
"People who need to be punished are not," Settle said. "It is affecting the entire justice system."
"None of us wants to raise taxes, but it is so needed," Alderman Teena Sagely said. "Something needs to be done."
Alderman Johnny Ragsdale said he was in full support of the sales tax to support the funding for a jail, pointing out a jail tax has never been imposed in the county.
He said the current jail was built using a lease fine of $1.5 million from the Sisters of Mercy at the Crawford County hospital, Ragsdale said.
Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown and County Judge John Hall spoke to the Van Buren City Council prior to its monthly meeting Monday as part of a tour promoting the sales tax proposal.
In a presentation to the council, officials outlined statistics regarding costs and lost revenue to the county from district court fines, issues of public safety and answered questions about the possible new jail and tax.