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Photo by Andrew Richards
The Madison County Jail in Edwardsville.
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Photo by Andrew Richards
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan talks about the jail bond issue.
Madison County voters will have the opportunity to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ Tuesday, March 18, on an issue that’s been debated since September of last year.
That issue is jail bonds, where the money borrowed could be used to renovate and remodel the county jail. But county officials say it is not so much whether the facility should be upgraded, but how the $18.8 million project is going to be paid for and how it might affect taxpayer dollars.
“We haven’t found anyone who is opposed to the project,” County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said. “The issue is the financing of the project.”
Dunstan said, “This is the dilemma that we have. Now the issue is not between doing the jail and not doing the jail. The issue is do you bond it or do you do it without bonding?”
County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler said voters should have a say on the issue.
“I think the main point is the county board on October 16 voted to issue $18.8 million bonds to remodel the jail, and they voted to do that without voter approval,” he said. “That forced the citizens of Madison County to gather 17,700 signatures on petitions just for the people to have a right to vote on it, and indeed within 30 days, 23,600 signed petitions just to get the opportunity or the right to vote on this issue.”
When it all started
The county board tabled a motion to issue the jail bonds at its Sept. 18 board meeting.
Proceeds from the bonds, if passed, would be used for 16 separate projects, including installation of fire detection and suppression systems, expansion of the kitchen and laundry facilities, replacement of deteriorated water and sewer lines, replacement of the heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems, updating jail security systems, expanding the secured inmate loading facility, or sally port, and other projects.
The jail, which was built in 1979 with a capacity of 100 beds, was expanded in 1983 and again in 1995 to increase capacity to 300 beds. County officials have said the support facilities in place are the same as when the jail was constructed.
According to board minutes, the main point of discussion at the September meeting between board members, Dunstan and State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons was placing the referendum on the ballot for voters to have a say.
Gibbons continuously reminded board members the county board could not vote to put a referendum, or a choice giving a voters a say, on the ballot.
They could, however, pass an advisory referendum, which would poll voters’ take on whether the county should issue the bonds.
The final motion to table the jail bond issue was 15-13.
At the county board’s meeting in October, the board passed the issuance of the bonds 20-7 – a move that automatically allowed a publication notice on the issue to be published. From that date to 30 days out, the county clerk is allowed to receive a petition signed by 17,722 registered Madison County voters, or 10 percent of the county’s population, to put the issue on the ballot.
Dunstan wants voters to know voting “no” on the ballot could cost the county and taxpayers more money.
“We are going to end up doing the project if this doesn’t pass over a longer period of time at more cost than if we go out and borrow the money,” he said. “That’s what is sad, because we try to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and reduce cost.
“And that’s the dilemma that we have,” Dunstan said.
He said if the project is done piecemeal over 10 to 15 years, it could cost more due to construction costs increasing from year to year.
“Construction costs and things like that are more expensive than going out and borrowing the money at low interest rates,” he said.
If the project is bonded and completed over the next three years, taxpayers would benefit, Dunstan said.
According to the county’s website, debt service on the bonds would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $7.89 more per year in taxes, but the county chairman plans to ask the board to reduce other property tax levies to offset the increase.
Prenzler urged county residents to vote on the issue on March 18.
“It was a hard job to get this issue on the ballot,” he said.