Greene County lawmakers appear to be slowly understanding that it will be more helpful to be part of the proposed jail solution than to be part of the problem. We hope it’s not too late.
The Legislature indeed, for what seems like the umpteenth time, tabled a vote Monday to authorize borrowing $39 million to build a new jail.
But this time, after an emotional debate on both sides of this contentious issue, the Legislature seemed to realize there are too many unanswered questions about the proposed jail’s size and final cost, the legality (or wisdom) of sharing a jail with Columbia County, operational costs that have not been recognized and Alternative-to-Incarceration services to plunge Greene County into a generation of debt.
To his credit, Public Safety Committee Chairman William B. Lawrence, R-Cairo, who has become a lightning rod for the jail issue, decided to postpone another vote until his committee meets again in September.
Besides using the 60-day hiatus as a cooling-off period, lawmakers plan to do what they should have done from the start: publicly release a list of frequently asked questions about the jail and a jail operation budget estimate, and re-examine the proposed jail size with the state Commission of Corrections. The list of questions will included details of the bond and how borrowing will affect property taxes.
Two things we can say with certainty. First, the Legislature has awakened to see the long-standing need for open debate on the county’s incarceration policy. And second, lawmakers have not been doing their homework. A prospective tax increase of $29 per $100,000 of assessed valuation over 30 years is unacceptable in a county already bending under a heavy load of taxes. More research and more public discussion. It’s about time.