Feb. 8, 2022: Osage County voters to decide sales tax question for law center and jail – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Feb. 8, 2022: Osage County voters to decide sales tax question for law center and jail

LYNDON, Kan. – At a special election Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, local voters could determine whether future duties of the Osage County Sheriff’s Office will include operating a 120-bed detention center proposed to be built in Lyndon.

On the ballot is a special question, which if approved would establish a 1/2 cent countywide sales tax to pay costs to “design, construct, equip and furnish a new law enforcement and public safety center …” The tax would pay for the startup costs of a proposed $20 million county jail and law enforcement center, and initial payments on bonds issued to finance the project.

In a series of community meetings held around the county since last summer, Osage County Sheriff Chris Wells has promoted a proposal for a new law enforcement center and a possible 140-bed jail. Wells said, “Something has to change” at the current sheriff’s office and jail in Lyndon, Kan.

The sheriff’s office occupies a building that used to be a nursing home that was built in1964. In 2004, the building was condemned because the roof had fallen in. Promotional materials from the sheriff’s office said Osage County purchased the building in 2005 as a temporary solution for lack of room at the sheriff’s office, then housed in the jail by the courthouse.

The sheriff’s outline of problems at the office include black mold, rotting floors, holes in the floors, moldy evidence room, three full file rooms, unsecure dispatch room, leaking roof, rotting ceilings and attic space, need of paint, and outdated wiring and plumbing.

On a recent tour of the sheriff’s office, many of the problems the sheriff listed last summer still existed – mold on ceilings in some storage areas, spongy floors in some areas, apparent roof leaks. In a mildew-smelling room called the armory, where surplus items and longs guns were stored, mold was visibly growing on the guns’ wooden stocks – some of the guns were evidence from past crimes, the sheriff said.

The evidence rooms shown during the tour were overflowing with shelves filled with boxes and file cabinets almost everywhere they would fit. One room shown was filled with what appeared to be personal effects, almost so full the door couldn’t be opened. Wells said he was uncertain of what was stored there.

Literature provided by the sheriff’s office says the current jail was built in 1985 with 25 beds, and when the sheriff’s office moved in 2006, 10 beds were added. Though the jail was built to be expanded with an upper level, foundation issues have since excluded that option. The foundation problems have also caused several cells to be inoperable, and flooding occurs in some cells. The current jail also has mold issues and lack of storage space. Wells said several inmates have filed lawsuits against the sheriff’s office and the county due to conditions in the jail.

The upcoming election question is for a 1/2 cent countywide sales tax for four years, but it is tied to the $20 million proposal for a new law enforcement center and jail, which is based on a plan for the county to issue bonds to be paid off over 35 years. According to calculations provided by the Osage County Clerk’s Office as additional information for the ballot question, a project cost of $19,997,500, with added $297,500 in fees would total $20,295,000 for the amount of the bonds issued. An interest rate of 3.28 percent would cost the county $16,274,045 in interest by the end of the 35-year term. Annual payment amount for the county would $937,667. The total amount paid in principal and interest after 35 years would be $36,569,045. The half-cent sales tax for startup costs is expected to generate $791,173 per year for four years.

Wells said Osage County commissioners Fred Diver, Heather Kuder, and Jay Bailey, had supported the proposal on the condition that it would not raise property taxes. Wells said the current proposal fixes the liabilities of the outdated jail and facilities without becoming a tax burden – raising revenue by housing out-of-county and other agencies’ detainees.

Wells said he is currently in contact with the U.S. Marshals Service to discuss housing federal inmates at Osage County’s facility, having received a letter of interest from the agency last summer. In a letter from Ronald Miller, of the U.S. Marshals Service District of Kansas, he said the federal government is under a presidential executive order, signed in January 2021, to cease the use of privately operated criminal detention facilities, and instead will be required to use state and local detention space.

Wells said the U.S. Marshals Service could provide as many as 65 to 80 inmates to help pay for the new facility.

“Less than 50 federal inmates alone will pay for the new facility,” Wells said at one of the community meetings. “At 85 percent capacity, we stand to easily make $1.4 million (annually) to help lower taxes in the county.”

“This proposal fixes the liabilities, creates jobs, and generates revenue to be able to reduce property tax both short and long term,” he said.

If constructed, the new two-level facility will be located adjacent to the current sheriff’s office, which will later be demolished to make room for parking and lower level access. The proposed facility now stands at 122 beds and would be constructed to add 24 more beds if needed in the future. The building would also house the sheriff’s office, a storm-proof dispatch center, and climate controlled evidence storage areas. Also proposed is an ambulance bay and bed space for mental health cases.

With the proposed sales tax ending after four years, Wells said the new facility will be self sustaining by that time and the sales tax will no longer be needed.

The extra ballot information indicates that if the facility achieves at least 50 percent of its projected revenue, additional sales tax funding will not be needed. The current sales tax in Osage County is a minimum of 7.5 percent, with each city having its own rate: Burlingame, 9 percent; Carbondale, 9.5 percent; Lyndon, 9 percent; Melvern, 8.5 percent; Olivet, 7.5 percent; Osage City, 9 percent; Quenemo, 7.5 percent; Scranton, 8.5 percent.

The sales tax question will be the only question on the ballot for the special election on Feb. 8, 2022. The legal notice published for the special election and stating the question is below:

NOTICE OF SPECIAL QUESTION ELECTION

OSAGE COUNTY, KANSAS

Notice is hereby given to the qualified electors of Osage County, Kansas (the “County”) that a special election has been called and will be held on February 8, 2022, for the purpose of submitting to the qualified electors of the County the following proposition:

Shall the following be adopted?

Shall Osage County, Kansas, be authorized to impose a one-half percent (.50%) retailers’ sales tax (the “Sales Tax”) for the purpose of paying costs necessary to design, construct, equip and furnish a new law enforcement and public safety center facility in the County (the “LEC Improvements”), including initial start-up payments of principal and interest on bonds issued to finance such LEC Improvements which are not paid from revenue derived from operation of the LEC Improvements, with collection of such Sales Tax to commence July 1, 2022, and to terminate four years after its commencement, all pursuant to K.S.A. 12-187 et seq., as amended?

IT IS IMPORTANT FOR EACH QUALIFIED VOTER TO NOTE THAT YOUR BALLOT CANNOT BE COUNTED UNLESS YOU TAKE THE APPROPRIATE STEPS:

To vote in favor of any question submitted on this ballot, darken the oval to the left of the word “Yes.”  To vote against it, darken the oval to the left of the word “No.”

YES
NO

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The polls will open at 7:00 A.M. and will close at 7:00 P.M., on February 8, 2022, the election day.


In addition to voting on election day, the Osage County Clerk’s Office is allowing early voting up until noon on Monday, Feb. 7. The clerk’s office will be open for voting every day during regular business hours, and additionally until 7 p.m. Jan. 25 and Feb. 3. Voters can also vote by advance ballot through the mail, but should contact the clerk’s office as soon as possible for details and to receive a ballot in time for the election.

The ballot question, voting place information, and additional ballot information is here.

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