Proposed sales tax to be put before Jeff Davis voters

By By Doris Maricle / American Press

JENNINGS — Jeff Davis Parish voters will vote on a proposed sales tax increase to fund the maintenance and operation of a

new parish jail.

The Police Jury voted Wednesday to put the 10-year, half-cent sales tax on the May 3 ballot. If approved, it would raise about

$2.1 million to be used to run the jail, including costs to feed inmates and provide medical care.

The sales tax increase would take effect July 1, according to Police Jury President Donald Woods. Passage of the tax is vital

to the future of the parish jail, he said.

“If it doesn’t pass, there will be more criminals walking around like they are now,” Woods said. “We really need it because

of the lack of space. We can’t arrest anybody and put them in jail.”

The new jail would also save the parish money on upkeep of an outdated facility that is in need of major repairs, he said.

The current jail, built in 1964, can house only 62 inmates and has major issues with an outdated sewer system, inadequate

lighting and a lack of proper security measures.

Plans for the new jail call for a

facility that will incorporate the parish jail and the municipal jails

in Jennings, Welsh

and Lake Arthur. Most of the sheriff’s administration offices,

including the 911 Center, would also be relocated to the new

jail.

A 2012 study by McNeese State

University economics professor Michael M. Kurth and accounting professor

Daryl V. Burkel recommended

the parish build an $8 million, 180- to 200-inmate jail with

annual operating costs of $2.35 million.

Based on the report, the cost to operate the new facility would be $32.15 per inmate per day — $12.21 less than the $44.36

cost to run all four facilities independently.

The State Bond Commission approved $10 million in funding for the new jail in October.

The approval includes $835,000 in first-year funding for planning and construction and an additional $9.1 million in future

funding. The Police Jury has committed $480,000 from an oil and gas lawsuit settlement for the project.

Parish officials are still mulling plans for the new jail, including location.

The former Southern Barbecue manufacturing facility on U.S. 90 just west of Jennings is among the options being considered.

Properties to the east and west of the facility have been offered to the parish, Woods said.

Plans for a new jail have failed twice since 1998 when voters defeated a half-cent sales tax that would have funded construction

of a jail and paid for Sheriff’s Office salaries.

Voters also overwhelmingly rejected a

sales tax increase in May 2009 for a $12 million jail and administration

office. The

tax would have generated $1.1 million a year to build and maintain

a 228-inmate facility just east of the parish courthouse

in Jennings.