GREENFIELD — Hancock County residents will have an opportunity next month to share their thoughts about the county’s proposal to raise income taxes to fund the first phase of a new jail.
The Hancock County Council on Wednesday introduced a local income tax hike of 0.2 percent, which could go into effect in October. This would raise the income tax rate from 1.74 percent to 1.94 percent
The county already increased the tax for this year by 0.04 percent to fund the 911 center’s operations.
The council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, for a public hearing on the income tax rate. The public is invited to speak at the hearing. Council members will then vote on the tax increase on Feb. 13.
For Hancock County residents making the median household income recorded for 2017 of $73,294, the county would collect an additional $146.59 per year from paychecks due to the tax increase, an extra $5.64 from each bi-weekly paycheck.
The county has been attempting to build a new jail for years to alleviate overcrowding. Recently, the jail, built to accommodate 157 inmates, has been housing about 200. The jail population hit a record amount of inmates — 259 — in early December. About 75 county offenders are also housed in other Indiana jails.
A new jail for Hancock County is slated to be at built at the county farm, along U.S. 40 between County Roads 400E and 500E. The Hancock County Commissioners in November paid $400,000 to an Indianapolis-based engineering firm, RQAW, for a schematic design of the facility.
The jail would have two pods, which could hold about 440 inmates, and construction would last about two years. Part of one of the structures could be operational within a year to alleviate overcrowding. The building would house about 160 inmates and have a kitchen, laundry, nurse’s office and intake space.
On Wednesday, Bill Bolander, president of the county council, told a crowd gathered for the State of the Community luncheon that the two-pod jail could cost about $28 million. That’s significantly less than a proposed $55 million plan the public voted down last May.
But, the $55 million referendum included renovations to other Hancock County buildings that would’ve freed up space for probation, community corrections and the prosecutor’s office. The funds from the 0.2 percent income tax hike would pay only for two jail pods and not a sheriff’s department building.
If the council moves forward next month on approving the income tax hike, they’re also planning to issue a revenue bond to get funds sooner. A revenue bond is a type of municipal bond that finances income-producing projects. The total amount of the proposed bond will depend on how much the first phase of the jail project costs, Greg Guerrettaz, the county’s financial consultant, has previously told officials.
Since the income tax increase won’t cover all the costs of a new criminal justice facility, county officials have said they might have to pursue general obligation bonds to pay for a new sheriff’s department building and other criminal justice facilities. That could lead to another referendum on the ballot in 2020 if they borrow more than $5 million.