Gibson County could raise taxes to fund jail

Local News

PRINCETON, Ind. (WEHT) – The future of Gibson County’s jail may rest in the pockets of people who live there. Neighbors could be funding a new jail, an expansion, or new programs and hires if an Indiana law comes into play.

It would allow the county to raise taxes, but local leaders believe it would lower stress on officers and inmates in Princeton.

“We have an old jail that is not designed in the best way, so there are a variety of problems over there,” said County Councilman Jeremy Overton.

He and six other Council members opened discussion Tuesday about the next steps to fix a long-standing problem. The million-dollar question is, how to pay for it?

Anything new costs money, so Gibson County is eyeing a potential funding solution. It would hike income taxes by 0.2 percent and cost the average home an extra $100 per year.

The current income tax rate in Gibson County is 0.7 percent. The average income tax rate across the state is 1.7 percent.

County leaders say the jail is understaffed and overcrowded, and the Indiana Department of Corrections is demanding changes. The county stands to face fines if changes aren’t made.

Following the County Council meeting, Sheriff Timothy Bottoms refused to answer questions about issues in his jail.

“I told you, no cameras, no questions,” he said pointing his finger at Eyewitness News reporter, Stuart Hammer before driving away in his car.

Bottoms serves the people of Gibson County, and taxpayers could be funding a $1.5 million dollar per year bump in the jail budget.

Councilman Bill McConnell says the ideal solution is providing more programs and counseling instead of building more jails.

Ending a cycle of people coming in and out of lockup is the goal in Gibson County and across the country.

“A lot of times the biggest problem is them coming back,” said Overton.

Vanderburgh County has been making headlines for its overcrowding problem, and county leaders there are still working on a solution. Sheriff Dave Wedding is an advocate for more cells.

Experts have recommended raising taxes there to help fund it.

Gibson County leaders expect results from a study to come back before the end of the year. It will give more insight into what it takes to start from scratch and build a new jail, add on to what it has, or remodel the existing building.

A public meeting is planned for August 6 at 6 p.m. at the Gibson County Courthouse Annex.

The county council recognizes what needs to be done, but some neighbors think it is not happening fast enough.

“They stand in there and they want to talk about it, but nobody’s taking any action on it, and I think it’s time,” said Cecil Allan.

If the county acts on the tax increase proposal before the end of October, it would get revenue starting in 2020. If it waits until after November to pass an ordinance, revenue wouldn’t stream in until 2021.

Dubois County recently passed an ordinance taking advantage of the state law which allows local government to raise taxes to fund jail maintenance. Its 1.2 percent income tax is already approved.

Though he doesn’t speak for everyone in Gibson County, Allan is willing to sacrifice more of his paycheck if it means a better future.

“I want our county to be a better county,” he said. “Take care of the people we got here, whether they’re in jail or they’re out of jail.”

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This story was originally published on July 16, 2019

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