Tax increase proposed for Johnson County Jail expansion

Johnson County jail

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – People who live and work in Johnson County could be required to pay more in county income taxes in order to pay for an expansion of the county jail.

The County Council is meeting Monday at 6 p.m. to go over details and get public input on a proposal to increase the county income tax rate from 1 percent to 1.2 percent. Money raised from the tax increase would be used to add enough space for roughly 250 additional beds at the jail. The cost of the jail expansion has been estimated at roughly $20 million.

The income tax increase would cost many taxpayers hundreds of dollars a year.

Brian Baird, President of the Johnson County Commissioners, said nobody wants to pay more in taxes, but the county has run out of alternatives when it comes to easing overcrowding at the jail.

“We’re reacting to state mandates and things that are being required of us,” Baird said. “And we don’t have options.”

The county is currently under a state order to work on a solution to persistent overcrowding in the jail.

“And if we don’t do something about it as a county, then the state and the federal government will step in and they’ll do something about it,” Baird said.

Like several other Indiana counties, overcrowding has been a constant issue for several years in the Johnson County Jail. In 2015, changes in the state’s criminal code began sending level 6 felony offenders to local jails instead of state prisons.

Sheriff Duane Burgess said the jail is consistently over the facility’s inmate capacity of 322. On Monday, Burgess said the jail was housing 389 inmates. Of those, he said 81 inmates were level 6 felons serving out their sentences. At other times since he took office in January, Burgess said the inmate count has been around 420.

“We’re not looking for some big castle to build,” Burgess said. “We’re looking for a place to house inmates to make sure the citizens of Johnson County stay safe.”

County officials have studied several options for solving the overcrowding problem. A feasibility study was required by the state. Those options included using space at the county’s juvenile detention facility to house adult inmates and exploring the concept of a regional jail involving multiple counties.

At this point, Burgess and Baird believe expanding the current jail is the only feasible option.

In 2010, Johnson County voters rejected a property tax increase to pay for a jail expansion.

“Well if we need a bigger jail, we need a bigger jail,” said Johnson County resident Mary Jo Gallagher. “But nobody likes to pay increased taxes.”

Christian Stout, assistant manager at Anne’s Restaurant in downtown Franklin, says he doesn’t mind paying more to fix a community problem.

“We may not see where it’s going, but it is solving a problem and it’s going to affect other people’s lives,” he said. “And we need to realize that.”

Johnson County resident Joyce Scotten also said she doesn’t mind paying more to help the jail. But she doesn’t like the decision resting with the County Council.

“I believe it should be a vote for the people of this county as to how the jail will be paid for,” Scotten said. “However, I do believe we do need a new jail, or at least an expanded jail.”

If members of the council vote to approve the tax increase, a second and final vote would likely take place by the end of June.

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