It's official: Shiawassee County voters to decide on $37.7 million jail in May

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SHIAWASSEE COUNTY (WJRT) (2/7/2019) Shiawasee County commissioners voted Thursday to place a question on the May ballot asking voters to approve a tax increase for a new $37.7 million jail.

Commissioners split 4-3 in their vote on the measure after voting 5-1 Wednesday during their Committee of the Whole meeting.

Sheriff Brian BeGole wants to replace the jail after a feasibility study concluded the cost of renovating the existing jail exceeds the cost of new construction.

"I'm asking you to push this forward to let the people of Shiawassee County make that decision if they want a county jail to be humane, to be one that lessens the liability of the county," BeGole told the board.

Staff Sgt. Casey Colbry said the new jail is necessary and not a luxury item.

"We're not asking for a new jail simply because we'd like a new one," he said. "We're asking because we need one."

If voters approve the 20-year tax property tax increase to pay for the jail, the county's millage rate would go up by 1.64 mills -- or $1.64 on every $1,000 of taxable value.

"I don't really want to spend the money, but at times you have to," said Finance Chairman John Plowman. "And this is one of those times."

Commissioner Gary Holzhausen said he will not vote for placing the millage on the ballot.

"There's at least 30 percent of the people in the county who are struggling, can hardly make ends meet, and somebody's got to support those," he said.

Rich Labdon, the only resident to speak during the public hearing, calls this a rush to get a new jail.

"We have decided that rather than deal with social problems at the root, we're just going to round them up and put them in jail," he said. "It's a shame."

The price tag includes $500,000 in operational and programming costs for mental health, addiction and vocational training.

"The question is that in 20 years, how are we going to continue to sustain those programs?" Commissioner Marlene Webster asked.

The board is expected to pass the ballot language on Thursday, leaving the final decision with the voters.