PRINCETON — Gibson County Council members voted 4-1 Tuesday to explore whether the county should act on a state law that allows counties to increase the local option income tax rate to fund or maintain county jails.
Council members plan to discuss the issue with financial consultants from Baker Tilly (formerly H.J. Umbaugh & Associates) at the July 16 regular meeting at 9 a.m. and to conduct a public forum at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 on the topic.
County Attorney James McDonald said the new law allows the county to consider whether to increase its LOIT rate of .7 percent to .9 percent with the additional tax revenue earmarked for capital improvement and operation of the county jail. He estimated the increase could raise about $1.5 million per year.
The increased revenue must, according to the state law, be maintained in a separate dedicated county fund and used by the county only for paying for correctional facilities and rehabilitation facilities in the county. The law also requires that the county complete a feasibility study and conduct a public hearing on the study prior to any jail construction or expansion.
Gibson County Board of Commissioners President Steve Bottoms said a feasibility study is in progress and a report will be made when it is completed.
McDonald said the state provision for increasing local income tax rates to help fund corrections facilities is one mechanism for dealing with a statewide problem of county jail overcrowding.
"This is something that you might want to have as a seed for the future," he said.
"I'm not ready to spend any money until we know what we're going to be up against," Councilman Bill McConnell told McDonald and council members.
Councilman Mike Stilwell asked how old the county jail structure is, and was told it was built about 30 years ago. "It's got to be replaced at some point," Stilwell said.
"I'm not ready to jump," McConnell reiterated.
Councilman Craig Pflug told McConnell the council's decision Tuesday was merely to decide whether to advertise plans to discuss the topic at their regular meeting and a special meeting.
Stilwell offered a motion, supported by Councilman Jeremy Overton, to discuss the topic at the July 16 regular meeting and at the suggestion of Councilman Dan Beard, schedule a special meeting in the evening Aug. 6 to allow more people an opportunity to attend.
The motion to schedule the discussions passed 4-1 with McConnell dissenting. Council members Jay Riley and Derek McGraw were absent from Tuesday's monthly session.
Overton noted that when the county previously increased its local option income tax from .5 percent to .7 percent, the law provided for automatic increases to the 1 percent maximum local option income tax rate. But he said the state law changed, and the rate didn't automatically increase. Instead, it has remained at the .7 percent level since the council didn't vote to increase it.
Council members also scheduled budget workshops with department heads July 16-17, budget meetings Aug. 13 and Aug. 22, a public reading of the proposed 2020 budget Aug. 29 and the adoption hearing for the budget Sept. 10.