GREENFIELD — Hancock County officials might couple another attempt at raising income taxes with a stopgap bond in hopes of securing funding sooner for the first phase of a new correctional facility.
Members of the Hancock County Council and Board of Commissioners discussed this option at a county budget committee meeting on Wednesday, three weeks after the state halted a 0.2 percent hike in the local income tax for 2019. The reason: The county already had approved an increase to fund operations at the 911 center, and state law says the tax can be increased only once a year.
The county has been attempting to build a new jail for years to alleviate overcrowding.
Hancock County has no source of funding to pay for a new county jail, a project that’s shifted in cost and location ever since the public voted down a referendum in May that would’ve increased property taxes to pay for it. County leaders are determining whether a jail — which could house upwards of 400 inmates — could get built on land commonly called the county farm, along U.S. 40 between County Roads 400E and 500E.
County council members say they still want to pursue an income tax increase, raising it from 1.74 percent to up to 1.94 percent. The county earlier this year raised the tax to 1.74 percent from 1.7 percent to help the 911 center.
Greg Guerrettaz, the county’s financial consultant, said the part of the increase that would pay for jail construction would raise about $2.9 million a year. The rest of the revenue would be set aside for increased payroll.
Indiana counties can increase their income tax rates by no more than 0.2 percent to cover the cost of a new correctional or rehabilitation facility, according to a law enacted earlier this year. Indiana code also states if a county adopts a tax increase after Dec. 31 of the preceding year and before Sept. 1 of the current year, the tax would take effect on Oct. 1 of the current year.
The county council plans to approve the income tax increase in early 2019, which could result in the hike going into effect in October. The county collects local income tax from residents’ paychecks.
Until then, the county could issue a revenue bond, a type of municipal bond that finances income-producing projects. Officials admit that would be a stopgap measure until the new income tax rate goes into effect. Guerrettaz told county officials on Wednesday that the council cannot issue the revenue bond until the tax rate is approved. The total amount of the proposed revenue bond will depend on how much the first phase of the jail project costs, he added.
The income tax increase wouldn’t cover all the costs of a new criminal justice facility. For that reason, county officials say they might have to pursue general obligation bonds. That could lead to another referendum on the ballot in 2020, if they borrow more than $5 million.
Contractors through engineering firm RQAW — which has been paid more than $900,000 over the past few years for the jail project — have been studying the county farm property since last month. A $100,000 contract is paying for a geotechnical report on the land north of U.S. 40, as well as a survey of the county farm acreage south of U.S. 40.
Brad Armstrong, county commissioners president, said the analysis could wrap up this month.
If the study determines the farmland can support a correctional facility and the commissioners decide to move forward on building a jail outside of downtown Greenfield, the board could approve a $400,000 contract with RQAW for schematic design of a jail and sheriff’s department offices, Armstrong said. The council in September appropriated the money from the county’s rainy-day fund for schematic design.
Bill Bolander, council president, said the council could approve the $400,000 contract at its meeting next week contingent on a positive site analysis from RQAW. Bolander said from past conversations with architects, it could take two years to build two jail pods, which could hold 400 inmates.
A “half-a-pod,” part of one of the structures, could be operational within a year’s time and cost $10.3 million, housing about 158 inmates. It would have a short-term kitchen, laundry, nurse’s office and intake space. The proposal was created as an alternative to proposed temporary modified semitrailer units.
The Hancock County Jail had 226 inmates in the 157-bed facility on Friday morning, said Sheriff-elect Brad Burkhart. Fifty-three inmates are also being housed in other counties.