Vanderburgh Co. Jail Tax Bill 'Dead in Committee'

Vanderburgh County leaders go back to the drawing board to find funding for a jail expansion, after it's announced a state bill to raise taxes won't move forward.

The tax would have given the county cash to make room for more inmates. Sheriff Dave Wedding says an expansion at his jail is long overdue, but county, city, and state leaders can't see eye to eye.

“It's definitely a community problem,” Wedding told the County Council Wednesday.

Overcrowding continues to plague Vanderburgh County, Wedding says, and the tax that could have come from House Bill 1487 and helped to relieve some pressure, is now dead in committee and won't have a hearing.

The Vanderburgh County jail has been overcrowded for years, holding hundreds more than the building is designed for. But crime in the Tri-State isn't stopping.

“Here we have 121 dangerous people that reside in or around the county that have committed crimes,” Wedding says, holding a stack of warrants. “Sexual predators, robberies, drug dealers, assaults with guns, rape, child molesting.”

People that Wedding wants behind his bars; he just fears there's not enough room.

If HB 1487 passed, the bill would not have automatically hiked taxes. It would have given the county an option to raise income taxes by a quarter-percent to help add more beds in the jail. It would have needed approval by the full House, Senate, Governor, and the Vanderburgh County Council.

But legislators say the bill won't make it to the House floor, and it's dead in the first stage of the process.

Bruce Ungethiem, president of the County Commission and major advocate for the bill, says he's still looking at other options to help the Sheriff – who just needs something.

“What that something is, I don't know,” Wedding says, seemingly at a dead end. “Everybody balks at the fact we have to get some money.”

Ungethiem says City Council could approve a county-option income tax, however council leadership has said it is not in favor of a tax increase. This tax would double the proposed the increase percentage from the house bill, from .25 percent to .50 percent across the county.

Additionally, the Commission says Vanderburgh Co. would only receive about 45 percent of the revenue collected from that potential increase and more than 60,000 county residents would have no representation on the vote.

Another option, Ungethiem says is the county could hold a referendum vote to increase property taxes in 2018. But he and Wedding fear jail overcrowding will only get worse before then, jeopardizing the safety of inmates and deputies working at the jail.

In addition to an overcrowding problem, Wedding says he's also dealing with under-staffing and over-worked deputies. He says he'll continue to push local and state leaders for help.

With a multi-million dollar price tag on expansion, County Council makes it clear, help won't come easy.

“I don't think we're going to find too many places in our budget to find that kind of bucks,” says Tom Shetler Jr., “I mean we're all sharing this pain a little bit here.”


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