Platte County asking voters for sales tax increase to pay for jail expansion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Platte County will soon ask voters to pay for expanding its overcrowded jail. The county commission unanimously agreed Tuesday to put a sales tax hike on the April ballot.

“We cannot continue to kick the can, concerning the jail, and capital improvements, especially in law enforcement, down the road any further,” Platte County Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber said.

But asking for any proposed tax hike is a tough move for an all-Republican commission.

“If I’m going to take shots for anybody, it will be to support our men and women in uniform,” commissioner Dagmar Wood said.

The current county jail was built in 1998 and has 180 beds. With some temporary federal immigration detainees, the average daily inmate population is closer to 200, forcing many inmates to sleep on the floor.

Overcrowding also contributed to two officers suffering serious injuries during recent jailhouse fights.

“We’ve got to do the right thing for public safety in this county and to protect the citizens and part of that means  having sufficient jail space,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said.

Sheriff Mark Owen said a lot is being done to try to reduce the jail population.

But an expert hired by the county predicts Platte County will need to house more than 300 inmates within the next 20 years.

“Our plan is not just to solve this for a 20-year period but to also have options down the road,” Schieber said.

The county could build an addition on top of the parking lot beside the current jail or on nearby property. Both options are designed to house at least 100 extra inmates, with room to expand up to 380 more beds.

The proposed tax would go away in 6 years and raise almost $65 million. That money would also allow more room for prosecutors, an extra courtroom, storage and fixes to sewage, plumbing and roofing on current spaces.

“We’re not coming to the public, saying this is something we don’t need. We’re here to serve them and do the things that they want at this point. I’m asking for their assistance to get that done,” Owen said.

Without room to grow, the county could be forced to send overflow inmates out of the area, which is extremely expensive. And the last time the county looked at possibly expanding the jail back in 2012, the cost was half what it is today. So the sheriff is hoping something gets done now, before this becomes an even more costly problem to fix.

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