Sunday, February 20, 2000

New jail may mean a tax hike

Kenton plans $25M facility

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Kenton County officials said last week that, so far, they consider a tax increase to be a last resort to help pay for the $25 million jail. But at least one of the three county commissioners believes that some type of tax hike will be necessary.

        “I just don't see where all the money's going to come from,” said Kenton County Commissioner Dan Humpert.

        “If we can't find all the money we need through other means, one of the options we have to consider is a tax increase. But that would be my last option.”

        Should the county choose that option, Mr. Humpert said he would support putting any proposed tax increase to a public vote.

        “We're in a society that says, "No more taxes,' but I think it's time to ask the citizens what they really want,” said Rodney Ballard, chief deputy of the Kenton County Jail, near Covington's riverfront.

        “On one hand, society wants tougher laws and longer sentences for criminals. But on the other hand, the public has to be willing to pay for a place to put all these offenders.”

        For two years, county officials had planned to build a low-rise jail in the suburbs to replace the existing jail, which is crowded and inefficient. Last year, officials rejected two proposed sites because of costs and public opposition.

        County officials now are focusing their search on several possibilities north of 20th Street in Covington.

        Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd has said he thinks the county can build a jail downtown for about $25 million. The complex would include offices for the county clerk, sheriff and fiscal court, as well as a parking garage.

        The current jail and county administration building at Third and Court Streets could be sold, Mr. Murgatroyd said. The county still owes about $5 million on the building, but Mr. Humpert said he hopes the building will attract a $10 million to $15 million price. Some developers have eyed the jail as a possible high-rise condo development.

        Scott Kimmich, Kenton County's deputy judge-executive, said county officials plan to meet next week with the county's fiscal agent to discuss ways Kenton County can finance the new jail with bonds. The county has $2 million in its current budget for land acquisition, but no decisions have been reached on how to make the bond payments.

        Mr. Kimmich said that county department heads have been asked to submit next fiscal year's budget requests by March 25, to give county officials time to look for ways to cut spending.

        “We really want to pick a site and get moving on this by the end of March,” said Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black.

        Another option is seeking federal money.


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