Greene County weighs its options as jail levy fails a second time

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Commissioner Rick Perales: “The problem isn’t going anywhere.”

Greene County leaders say the need for a new jail remains after voters rejected Tuesday a sales tax levy that would have funded the construction of a new combined 384-bed jail and sheriff’s office.

Voters turned down the 0.25% sales tax request by a margin of 55% to 45%, according to unofficial final results from the Greene County Board of Elections, garnering slightly more support from voters than a similar levy in April of 2020. That levy request, which would have increased the number of beds from 382 to 500, failed by a margin of 61% to 39%.

“It goes without saying we’re disappointed,” Commissioner Rick Perales said. “The problem isn’t going anywhere. With the consent decree, it’s not making the community safer, in fact it makes it more vulnerable,” Perales said.

Odd-year elections typically have low voter turnout. Unofficial results indicate roughly 19% of Greene County residents cast ballots on Tuesday.

Going forward, the commissioners have the option to put the measure on the ballot again. Officials have said previously that the commissioners may borrow the $53 million to build the new jail, and repay it out of the general fund, but this is a less palateable option.

“I’m convinced this is the right way to fund it,” Perales said. “It may be an option to build something smaller, but that’s more short term. We can only put band-aids on it, and meanwhile the cost of construction is astronomical.”

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Looking at alternative revenue sources, the county already applied for state capital improvement grant funding for county jails in June, and was not selected.

“It doesn’t change our need. That need still exists and how we move forward will be up to the commissioners,” jail administrator Major Kirk Keller said.

The commissioners and the sheriff’s office may convene as early as this week to discuss their plans to move forward. In the meantime, Keller says his staff will continue to work with what they’ve got.

“It affects them daily. We’ll keep doing the best we can, managing the best we can but I’m not sure how much longer we can keep kicking this can down the road. The question is how it gets done,” he said.

The current Greene County jail was built in 1969, and the Adult Detention Center in 2000. The new jail would have included the sheriff’s administrative offices, which are currently in a former Ford dealership dating to 1929. Greene County is under a 32-year federal consent decree prohibiting jail overcrowding.

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