Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

Douglas County Jail

Informational materials regarding the upcoming referendum on a sales tax to fund a jail expansion and behavioral health initiatives will soon be available on Douglas County’s website, and a series of public forums will also be held on the topic, an official told the Douglas County Commission Wednesday.

Sarah Plinsky, assistant Douglas County administrator, told county commissioners Wednesday that information on the referendum should be ready Friday or Monday on the county’s website, She did not specify what kind of information would be provided on the site.

The county also will release a one-page printed pamphlet on the referendum, with jail expansion and sales tax information on the front and information about the mental health projects on the reverse side, Plinsky said. She didn’t provide a time frame for the pamphlets or explain how they would be distributed.

Plinsky also told the commission she was looking to schedule town hall forums on the referendum for evenings or weekends in March.

The Douglas County Commission agreed last month to hold the sales tax referendum. If approved, the half-cent tax would raise an estimated $9.8 million in revenue, which would be used for the $44 million jail expansion and the $11 million behavioral health campus. It would also provide $5.1 million a year for new behavioral health programming and $1 million of the $6.1 million needed per year to operate an expanded jail.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said she wanted the informational materials to detail what would happen if the referendum were to fail. She said she wanted the materials to specify that if the referendum were to fail, the commission would be forced to use property taxes to finance the jail expansion and there would be no funding for the behavioral health projects.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug has made clear that state statute prevents commissioners from advocating that county residents vote in favor of the bond question. Commissioners can present information and answer questions regarding the referendum and discuss options available to them should the referendum fail, but they should not advocate for or encourage a yes vote, he said.

The referendum will be in the form of a mail ballot. County Clerk Jamie Shew said last month that the ballots would be mailed April 25 and counted May 15.

In other business, the County Commission:

• Approved a text amendment to county code that adds landfills to the list of activities that are permitted with approved conditional use permits. The text amendment adds a definition of landfills to the county code and regulates such things as setbacks, screening and reclamation. Commissioners also approved language changes to the solid waste chapter in the county code to conform to the landfill text amendment.

• Approved a cost-sharing agreement with Baldwin City, Palmyra Township and residents of an adjacent subdivision to pave about 2,400 feet of East 1700 Road north of County Route 12 at the cost of $430,000. The center line of the road represents the Baldwin City limits in that section. Keith Browning, county public works director, said the county would fund 35 percent of cost of the improvements, Baldwin City 55 percent, Palmyra Township 10 percent and adjacent residents 20 percent. Baldwin City would be responsible for maintenance, he said.