Letter to the editor: Funding the jail

To the editor:

I believe that expanding our county jail is necessary and that new mental health facilities will provide valuable services. Our jail was built for needs we exceeded decades ago, and serious crime continues to increase, as Lawrence remains a fast growing community.

What matters are how quickly we address these needs and how do we pay for them.

Concerns about mass incarceration reflect an important national debate, but not our local reality. Even jail opponents acknowledge local incarceration rates are less than half the national and state averages. We offer proven deterrence and re-entry programs, but, because of overcrowding, the majority of eligible inmates are sent to other county jails where they receive no services.

Defeating the sales tax proposal will likely shift the inevitable jail improvements to the property tax. Jail opponents have surfaced an alternative proposal to use new property taxes to pay for the new mental health programs. Relying exclusively on property taxes for new jail and mental health facilities puts the burden on the wrong tax base.

Fewer than half of local residents are homeowners and directly pay property taxes. Many taxpayers are more adversely impacted by a property tax increase than a sales tax that collects from business visitors, sports fans, tourists and others attracted by our thriving restaurant and entertainment industries.

Approximately 30 percent of those in our jail are from outside Douglas County; it makes sense to let all residents and visitors help pay for new jail and mental health facilities.