Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail

October 4, 2017


At a work session Wednesday, Douglas County commissioners were told that expanding the Douglas County Jail and building a mental health crisis intervention center would require voters to approve extra tax revenue.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the county simply didn’t have any other means of moving the projects forward.

One option for a new revenue source would be a sales tax. In 2015, the Kansas Legislature authorized the county to ask voters to approve either a quarter-cent or half-cent sales tax for jail or mental health needs, but commissioners have never put the tax before voters, Weinaug said. A quarter-cent tax would provide $4.86 million annually, and a half-cent tax would provide $9.72 million.

But officials said it was unlikely the sales tax would provide enough revenue to finance the jail expansion and crisis center and pay their annual operating costs. Figures that Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky shared with commissioners showed the annual debt payment on a $38 million jail expansion would be between $2.41 million and $2.53 million. She estimated the expanded jail would require 89 additional employees and cost $5.3 million more to operate annually despite the fact that the county would no longer have to spend $1.3 million a year to house inmates in other counties.

Plinsky didn't provide costs associated with the crisis intervention center, because the county does not have a design for the crisis intervention center or an estimate of its construction cost. The design process can't go forward without a clearer picture of what behavioral health programs are needed at the center, Plinsky said.

It is possible the $9.72 million from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax could provide enough revenue to cover the costs of the jail's and crisis center’s annual debt payments and the crisis center’s annual operating cost. That would allow the county to pay the jail’s annual operating cost with a mill levy appropriation. Weinaug said as a public safety expenditure, the jail’s operating cost would be exempt from the state’s tax lid measure, which limits annual property tax spending increases to the rate of inflation without voter approval.

The other revenue option available to the county for the projects is to increase property tax, which could be used in combination with a sales tax. Due to the tax lid legislation and a state statute requiring counties to get voter approval for any general obligation bonds of more than $300,000, a public vote would be needed if commissioners decided to use additional property taxes to finance construction of either project or the crisis center’s annual programming costs, Plinsky said.

Commissioners have the option of officially empowering a public building commission formed in 2015. A PBC can legally issue debt of $300,000 or more and is also not subject to a state statute that limits the county’s total debt to $42 million, or 3 percent of its total assessed valuation, Plinsky said. If commissioners chose that option for the jail expansion or crisis center, the county would enter into a lease-to-buy arrangement with the PBC until the debt was paid, she said.

The use of a PBC would not remove the need for public votes on the projects, because a PBC would have no authority to levy the taxes that would pay for the projects, Plinsky said. Raising that new revenue would still require voters to approve a sales tax or added mill levy authority, she said.

Contact Douglas County reporter Elvyn Jones
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Steve Jacob 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Kind of reminds me of the Library on a much higher scale. After the bond vote paid for the building, the mill levy had to go up even more to pay for the much higher cost of operations. Curious if they could have pulled this jail off without a vote if they did not spend the money on the Fairgrounds.

I think a sales tax vote is easier to pass if both the expansion and the mental crisis center are together, unites both sides, not happily, but enough. What scares me is these other counties can just say no and not take our prisoners, they may have problems of their own down the line.

Richard Njoroge 8 months, 3 weeks ago

i think if they cut down the people who are there because of issues like mental illness and alcohol and drugs and get the help they need .this will decrease the arrests in a great amount not to add those who are there that should not.

Steve Jacob 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Is anyone in jail without mental illness, alcohol of drugs problems?

Richard Heckler 8 months, 3 weeks ago

What structures are available as we speak that could become a mental health center?

Best find a way to create vacancies in the jail for the most serious offenders of the law.

If more sales tax are on the way let's find a way to reduce sales taxes on groceries and health care services, prescriptions and such. And school supplies through the college years.

One would think state government conservatives would jump at the opportunity to reduce sales taxes for the above named.

Richard Heckler 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Sales Tax Rate in Lawrence: 9.05 percent Breakdown of sales tax State tax 6.50% County taxes 1.00% City taxes 1.55% Total tax rate 9.05%

The City sales tax for Lawrence is 1.55 cents. Of this, 1 cent of the sales tax supports general operations. Another .3 cents is used for streets and infrastructure, while the remaining .25 cents supports Lawrence Public Transit. These infrastructure and transit taxes will expire in the year 2019. The City also receives approximately .58 cents of the County sales tax. Together, these sources generated $38.9 million of revenue in 2016.

Special Tax Districts

The Department of Revenue maintains an up-to-date list of all special taxing districts in Kansas at

In Lawrence, there are three areas where an additional sales tax is charged. A transportation development district (TDD) adds an additional sales tax to the base sales tax for the purpose of generating revenue to reimburse the project for certain transportation-related expenses associated with the development.

The City is not obligated to reimburse these expenses unless the revenue is generated. There is currently a 1-cent Transportation Development District sales tax in the following locations:

The Oread Hotel

Adjacent to the University of Kansas at 12th and Indiana, the City Commission approved a 22 year TDD for this project in April of 2008. This luxury hotel is 11 floors tall providing 99 rooms, multiple bars and restaurants, a day spa, and commanding views of the Wakarusa River Valley.

The TDD sales tax will be in place for 22 years and will be used to help pay for up to $11 million in developer-paid, transportation related public infrastructure expenses.

Bauer Farms

This project is located at the northeast corner of the intersection of 6th and Wakarusa Streets. Approved by the City Commission in October of 2008, Bauer Farms provides a variety of retail stores for residents of western Lawrence. The TDD sales tax will be in place for 22 years and will reimburse up to $6.8 million in developer-paid, transportation related public infrastructure expenses.

9th & New Hampshire

A 1% TDD sales tax was authorized in 2014 by the City Commission to support a new, mixed-use hotel with retail space and underground parking in the South Project Area (located within the southeast quadrant of the 9th & New Hampshire intersection) and a new, mixed-use apartment complex with commercial space and underground parking in the North Project Area (located within the northeast quadrant of the intersection).

The 22 year TDD will reimburse up to $3 million, with the first $850,000 used to pay back bonds on the public parking garage located in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street and the remainder to reimburse developer-paid, transportation related public infrastructure expenses.


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