Madison County voters will get a say on jail bonds

News-DemocratNovember 19, 2013 

— The jail bonds issue is expected to be on the March ballot after all, and the renovation project is on hold for the time being.

On Monday, the group Bonds on Ballot turned in 2,573 petitions with about 23,000 signatures, according to Bonds on Ballot coordinator Rod Spears. They used a wheelbarrow to bring them into the county clerk's office, he said.

"We are very happy with it," he said. "The people that were involved in this were simply incredible."

The group needed about 18,000 signatures in order to place the $18 million jail renovation bond purchase on the ballot. The renovation project was to include expansion and renovation of service areas such as the sallyport, kitchen, visiting area and infirmary, which were designed for the jail's original occupancy of 100. Now the jail holds between 250 and 300 inmates. The jail also needs sprinklers, ventilation and a host of upgrades in order to meet current codes, according to county leaders.

Bonds on Ballot had contested the bond issue, arguing that the county should use its cash reserves to pay for the project instead of borrowing. But Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan argued that the county has other capital projects that will be paid from those reserves, including major renovations at the courthouse.

"I continue to believe financing the jail project through the issuance of bonds was, and is, the right way to proceed," Dunstan said. "However, the Madison County Board will not take any further action on the jail rehabilitation project until the outcome of the referendum on this issue is determined."

Spears said his group had not yet decided what stance to take on the referendum itself, but would make a decision within the next week or so.

But both sides have said during the petition drive that they did not believe the referendum would pass, due to the unpopularity of funding improvements to a jail rather than other public buildings such as a school.

The primary election will take place March 18.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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