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New poll shows countywide sales tax vote for jail, mental health projects very close

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Heated and close: That seems to be a good way to describe the election for a new countywide sales tax to fund a jail expansion and mental health programs. A new poll provides more insight on just how close.

The Journal-World has partnered with Google Surveys to conduct an online poll of registered Douglas County voters who intend to vote in the current half-cent sales tax election. The poll found that the yes supporters may have a slight lead, but the number of undecided voters is still so large that the election easily could swing either way.

The poll — which ran from Wednesday through Monday — found:

— 37.3 percent of respondents plan to vote yes

— 35.5 percent of respondents plan to vote no

— 27.1 percent of respondents are undecided.

Interestingly, we asked the people who said they were going to vote no whether they were doing so primarily because they thought taxes were too high. Only 9.1 percent of respondents said that was their driving force.

The poll queried just more than 1,800 people who said they were registered Douglas County voters and plan to vote in the election. Responses were gathered from a random sample of users of LJWorld.com, who were asked to answer a poll question as they clicked to read an article.

A particularly interesting finding from the poll results is the popularity of a mental health crisis center versus how lukewarm the public is about a jail expansion. The poll asked whether people supported increasing the sales tax to build and operate a mental health crisis center. The results:

— 46.7 percent said they “strongly supported” a crisis center.

— 25 percent said they “supported” a crisis center.

— 4 percent said they “oppose” a crisis center.

— 3.4 percent said they “strongly oppose” a crisis center.

— 20.9 percent were undecided on the issue.

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail by Mike Yoder

Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea of a $44 million expansion of the Douglas County Jail isn’t as popular. It doesn’t take a political scientist to understand a mental health treatment center evokes a different set of emotions than a jail. Here are the results to the question whether people would support increasing the sales tax to fund a jail expansion and additional operating costs for the jail:

— 15.5 percent said they “strongly supported” jail expansion.

— 15.3 percent said they “support” jail expansion.

— 22.2 percent said they “strongly oppose” jail expansion.

— 15.6 percent said they “oppose” jail expansion.

— 31.4 percent were undecided on the issue.

If you are calculating at home, I’ll save you the trouble of getting out the abacus: A mental health only election would be at 71.7 percent yes and 7.7 percent no, with the balance undecided. That is basically a slam dunk election win.

A jail only election would be at 30.8 percent yes and 37.8 percent no, with the balance undecided. I wouldn’t call that a surefire loss, but such an election would have to dig itself out of a hole.

If these numbers are somewhat accurate, they highlight the political wisdom of putting both of these questions on one ballot. It certainly gives the jail project a better chance of winning.

But these numbers also could be pretty important if the sales tax election fails. As we have reported a few times now — most recently in Elvyn Jones’ fact-check article that published in Tuesday’s newspaper — the county can put another sales tax question on a future ballot if this one fails. That future sales tax question could be just a mental health-only sales tax. It would provide no direct funding for a jail expansion. The poll numbers indicate such a sales tax would have a pretty high chance of approval.

County officials have not highlighted that possibility at all, even in their nonpartisan, informational flyers that raised the question of what would happen if the sales tax vote fails. But County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman did acknowledge to Jones this week that the idea of a second sales tax question was a “conversation we’ll have to have” if the current referendum fails.

Such a mental health sales tax would free up about $4 million to $5 million in property tax money that could be used for a phased jail expansion, which could lessen the need for county commissioners to make painful budget cuts or raise property taxes. (They can only raise property taxes so much because of the state’s debt lid law.) For more on all of that, see this article.

But county commissioners are in no way obligated to put another sales tax question on a future ballot. What would they actually do? It's quite the guessing game for undecided voters to play.

As for questions you may have about the usefulness of our Google Survey polls, you’ll each have to figure that out on your own. I’ve been pleased that past polls have been fairly accurate in projecting election results. In the presidential election our Google Survey predicted Clinton would win the Douglas County vote with 62 percent of the vote. She received 61 percent. Senate candidate Patrick Wiesner was projected to receive 62 percent of the Douglas County vote. He received 60 percent. Congressional candidate Britani Potter was projected to receive 61 percent of the Douglas County vote. She received 52 percent. So, not perfect, but not bad.

Comments

Louis Kannen 3 weeks, 2 days ago

"hey Andy...says here that we may not be a' gettin that there shiny new slammer them City C'mishners and th' Arkitek-Bilders was a promise'n us...don't that just beat all... 'parently Mayberry folks want to help out th' 'mently challenged like me forin' we lock up any more a' them victimless crimnels..."

Conrad Griebel 3 weeks, 2 days ago

I wonder how income correlates with support for an extra .5% tax on groceries

David Reynolds 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Thank you Chad.

This analysis explicitly tells us why the county commissioners combined the two items under one "yes or no" vote.

It seems the county commissioners knew going in the jail lacked support. The commissioners knew the Crises Center was strongly supported by voters. Thus the commission said we will manipulate the question, and thus the voters, to get our way.

Why couldn't the County Commission trust the voters on these two items by having separate votes for each item?

If this referendum is passed, it speaks to the overarching support for mental health services in Douglas County, but it also speaks to the worst we have come to expect from politicians.

Jeff Goodrick 3 weeks, 2 days ago

They knew in 2010 that the Jail was too small and going to need and expansion so why not add it to the budget then and spread it out over 8 or more years instead of a sales tax. Once a sales tax goes in it never goes away, because there is always something else to buy.

RJ Johnson 3 weeks, 2 days ago

I am voting yes. I'd rather have the sales tax pay for the new jail then my property tax!! That way everyone pays their fair share!

Zoe Flowers 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Except it will still involve a property tax increase. It will not be built with just a sales tax increase.

Geoff Ermlap 3 weeks, 2 days ago

im voting no so those who want the jail to win can pay for it with their property tax and I dont have to pay for it

Steve Jacob 3 weeks, 2 days ago

If you rent in Lawrence, the property tax rise will be passed along to you. Landlords are not going to eat that cost.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Should the majority of voters say no ..... bring this back in a compromised form on a November ballot.

$31 million for new crisis center

$10 million for Jail improvements

$10 million for separate women's unit

Let's move this vote to a November ballot.

Reduce the number of new "beds" by 50% then give the women 30 of those new beds in a separate facilty.

Douglas County may never keep twice and many new beds occupied. It has been suggested that JOCO expanded a jail yet has many many beds empty. Who knows how many will be required in 20 years. Too much speculation by consultants. The focus needs to be less inmates in the future not more.

Johnson County Iowa apparently said no three times = Douglas County Kansas can do it. Johnson County Iowa thought they should be able to do reduce the inmate numbers effectively which has been.

Hire more staff in the DA's office to keep cases moving and hire additional county jail employees to relieve stress on existing staff people.

Then build additional living quarters at the mental health care facility.

$41 million plus operational expenses and such is a lot of tax dollars. I would rather spend perhaps $20 million on additional jail improvements and $20 more million on Mental health care .... after all it is being said that the need for mental health care in the USA is growing and growing rapidly..

While I applaud the logic behind the county sales tax..... the higher the sales tax the less attractive Douglas County and Lawrence,Kansas become.

The city and county should pull from existing sales tax sources to accomplish the above. This is a community issue NOT a county only issue. Pool the resources.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 1 day ago

A revised edition ........

Should the majority of voters say no ..... bring this back in a compromised form on a November ballot.

$31 million for new crisis center - it is being said that the need for mental health care in the USA is growing and growing rapidly..

$10 million for Jail improvements

$10 million for separate women's unit

Let's move this vote to a November ballot.

Douglas County may never keep twice and many new beds occupied. It has been suggested that JOCO expanded a jail yet has many many beds empty. Who knows how many will be required in 20 years. Too much speculation by consultants. The focus needs to be less inmates in the future not more.

Johnson County Iowa apparently said no three times = Douglas County Kansas can do it. Johnson County Iowa thought they should be able to do reduce the inmate numbers effectively which has been.

Hire more staff in the DA's office to keep cases moving and hire additional county jail employees to relieve stress on existing staff people.

WE need to find an avenue to pull from county wide existing sales tax sources to accomplish the above.

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 1 day ago

The "YES" yard signs seem to mention mental health and nothing about the jail expansion that which receives the lions share of the money initially.

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