Although the tax rate is a decrease of $1.48 cents from the current rate of 38.38 cents, which is 3.42 percent above the effective tax rate, the average homeowner will see an increase in their tax bill of about $31.68 annually or $2.64 per month due to increase in the value of the average homestead.
“Over a four-year period the county has only increased taxes by 2.36 percent,” Jessica Rio, county executive for the county's planning and budget office, said. “That is incredible.”
County officials in the planning and budget office said they believe the budget to be a “sound financial plan." The budget includes funding for capital improvement projects such a road safety projects and pre-construction costs for a new female jail facility that aims to provide more appropriate housing for female inmates.
At a public hearing during commissioners court Tuesday, a number of residents spoke out against the $6.6 million in the budget for the new female jail facility claiming that increasing capacity is not helping the population of women in jails and has a negative effect on women who are experiencing mental and physical illnesses.
Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Clinic, a University of Texas School of Law student organization that offers low-income clients representation in a variety of civil rights matters, felt that investing money in a new facility for women is not the best way to address the issues that many female inmates face, including sexual abuse and mental illness.
“Jail is the wrong place for mental health treatment and recovery,” Natarajan said. “Jail sets people back to the road to recovery because of the environment, schedule, lights and noise.”
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the new design is not intended to increase capacity at the jail, but instead reorganize the facility and improve quality of services for women.
Mark Gilbert, director of economic and strategic planning for the planning and budget office, said he felt this project is a step in the right direction in addressing some key issues of outdated facilities at the correctional complex.
“A new female inmate building is a critical puzzle piece in addressing serious problems at the correctional complex,” Gilbert said. “It is crossing off a lot of key boxes to make that a better, more affordable, more efficient, better space for programs and expansion of OBGYN services. It will free space and create a better-run correctional complex.”
Sheriff Sally Hernandez echoed a similar sentiment stressing the design will not increase the overall capacity at the jail but will instead accommodate more women with unique needs for health care, mental health issues and other support services.
“We don’t want more people in our jails,” Hernandez said. “We try to empower families with [support] services so they don’t end up in our jails”
The budget also calls for a 2 percent salary increase for full-time county employees and peace officers, as well as additional dollars for core services such as elections, inmate housing and legally mandated indigent defense, improvements to the Arkansas Bend Park and staffing for the new civil district court.