LAWERENCE COUNTY, Mo. – On Tuesday, November 2nd, voters in Lawrence County will be asked whether to fund the construction of a new jail facility in Mt. Vernon.
If approved, a 3/8th-cent sales tax would put the sheriff, deputies, and inmates under one roof for the first time in at least 30 years.
Sheriff Brad Delay says the county expects to spend $500,000 dollars this year solely on housing inmates in other counties.
He says the current jail, built-in 1986 can currently house 52 inmates but lacks the capacity to be able to hold multiple inmates charged in the same case.
Delay says it’s become an expensive and unsafe piece of property, citing instances of jail staff being attacked due to the jail’s outdated design.
“It really is a design issue more than anything,” says Sheriff Brad Delay. “If a jailer walks straight down the middle of that hallway, they still aren’t safe from inmates if they were to both come out on the sides, of being grabbed or attacked. Unfortunately, we have had some of those instances where jailers have been attacked. That’s something we obviously don’t want to happen. We want to protect everybody.”
He says the current jail also isn’t suited to hold multiple inmates under different criminal classifications.
“Based on their crimes, you can’t always fill all those beds because you can’t a potential murderer or accused murderer with someone who stole a candy bar from Walmart., so you can’t always fill those beds 100%. Because of that, we have right now probably 30 to 33 inmates in our jail that are supposed to hold 52.”
Sheriff Delay and the Lawrence County Commission say the money would be better spent on making payments to an all-new facility, however, that funding depends on voters.
The county has secured a plot of land in Mt. Vernon for the new jail to potentially be built on.
It’s an 8.52-acre building site behind the Relics Antique Mall off I-44.
The County Commission says the city sold it to the county for a token dollar, so long as it shows progress toward the construction within three years and breaks ground within five. Otherwise, the land goes back to the city.
Sheriff Delay says the new facility would likely cost $15 to $18 million and could house up to 120 inmates. It would also allow for two future expansions of about 92 beds each.
But the ballot issue comes after a similar, ½-cent sales tax was passed by voters in 2017 to assist with a budget deficit surrounding public safety costs.
Sheriff Delay says he hopes voters understand the county needs to act quickly, despite his distaste for imposing more taxes on residents.
“It’s one of those things, nobody likes taxes, I don’t like taxes, but as a realist, if you want public safety services…unfortunately they aren’t free and people are going to have to pay for them.”
He says he knows the community has shown its support for law enforcement in the past, and he recognizes the new tax may feel like another big ask that’s come too soon.
“If by chance something goes wrong, we aren’t taking that personally. We understand, the support we receive from our community and we appreciate that, but if it does pass then all the better for everybody involved,” Sheriff Delay adds.
A 3/8-cent sales tax would add just over a third of a cent to the cost of a dollar candy bar. For $20 worth of supplies at a store, it would add seven and a half cents.
On election day Tuesday, Nov. 2, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.