County officials want to increase public safety tax

·3 min read

Aug. 20—ANDERSON — Officials tasked with operating the local criminal justice system and the Madison County Council agree on a few proposed tax increases they say are vital to the county.

Raising the public safety portion of the income tax 0.2% would fund bonding and construction of the new county jail. Additionally, a 0.15% higher income tax would cover any shortfall in paying the jail bonds if income tax collections decline.

In addition to those increase, a letter from Sheriff Scott Mellinger, Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, Chief Public Defender Bryan Williams and the six elected judges also advocated for an additional 0.15% income tax increase to adequately fund the criminal justice system. They sent the letter Wednesday to all members of the Madison County Tax Council.

Andrew Hanna, chief deputy in the prosecutor's office, said Thursday that the 0.15% increase would be used by the criminal justice system throughout the county and local police and fire departments.

If the two 0.15% increases are approved ,for a total of a 0.3% increase, it would generate about $8 million to be shared with all government entities. Madison County would get about $2.9 million, and Anderson would receive $3.6 million. Amounts estimated for other municipalities are $569,000 for Elwood, $364,000 for Alexandria, $237,000 for Pendleton and $330,000 shared among other communities.

The letter states the sheriff's department, jail, prosecutor's office, public defender's office, courts and probation department operate on less funding than counties with a comparable population.

"The backlog of cases created by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in our criminal justice system caused by inadequate funding," the letter says. "Federal resources provided by the American Rescue Plan Act will provide short-term relief and allow some of our offices to expand in critical ways."

The officials said adequate funding in each aspect of the criminal justice system is essential to the fair and efficient administration of justice.

"The citizens of Madison County deserve better," the letter continues. "We can do better."

The officials all agreed that a new jail is necessary.

Financial consultant Brian Colton with BakerTilly said the 0.2% tax would raise an estimated $5.4 million toward the jail.

Madison County Auditor Rick Gardner said he plans to ask the County Council to establish a separate fund for the increased public safety funds to cover any shortfall in the jail bond payment from the correctional tax rate.

Increasing the public safety income tax takes a majority vote of the Madison County Local Income Tax Council, which comprises all the city and town councils in the county, along with the County Council.

Colton said if Madison County and Anderson vote for the increase, it would be adopted. If Anderson doesn't vote for the increase, it would require the support of Madison County and some of the other communities.

Based on the 2010 census figures, Anderson has 42.65 votes on the tax council, and Madison County has 33.91 votes. Elwood has 6.54 votes, Alexandria 3.91 votes and Pendleton has 3.23 votes.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter

@KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

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