Platte County residents on Tuesday will vote on a half-cent sales tax that would fund an expansion of the county’s 180-bed jail. The tax would raise $65 million and run until 2025.
The expansion would include about 200 additional beds as well as space for the prosecutor’s office and an additional courtroom.
Platte County Undersheriff Erik Holland said the building’s deteriorating conditions and overcrowding have made it unsafe for staff.
“We’ve experienced inmates breaking some of the grates that are rusty and decaying off and fashioning them into weapons,” he said.
While the jail is not always full, its population fluctuates regularly enough that it is often over capacity.
“Jail population is very fluid. There are times that it’s up, there are times that it’s down,” Holland said. “But when we start getting closer to the facility capacity, or when we go over, that’s harder for us to manage.”
When this happens, he said, some inmates are put in makeshift bunks on the floors of cells, so cells intended for two people house three. Even when the jail is not filled to capacity, he said, classification requirements mean that some cells are overcrowded because male inmates cannot be housed with female inmates.
The Platte County jail also houses inmates detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. But, Holland said, even if the jail stopped housing ICE inmates, that would not solve the overcrowding problem because ICE detainees are held for civil cases and cannot be housed in cells designated for criminals.
The Platte County Democratic Central Committee has questioned whether the county has exhausted all of its funding options, and urged residents to vote no.
“Critics believe that the increase in number of beds requested is excessive because other ways to reduce the number of inmates in jail awaiting trial were not evaluated,” the party said in a recent statement. “These methods need to be attempted first.”
The party also said commissioners should work to restore the county’s credit rating before charging a sales tax. The county’s Republican Central Committee has not taken an official stance.
Kansas City’s second district councilman Dan Fowler, whose district includes some of Platte County, agreed with the Democratic Committee.
“I’m disturbed by the financing plan they’re using. I think it will be costly to taxpayers because construction costs will keep going up,” he said. “The problem is that the bond rating for the county is so poor right now that they can’t issue bonds and that would be the preferable way to do it.”
In addition to the county-wide sales tax, residents of Parkville and the portion of Kansas City that’s in Platte County will also vote on their own city-wide taxes on April 2.