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Miller County officials weigh sales-tax vote to expand jail

by GREG BISCHOF TEXARKANA GAZETTE | July 27, 2021 at 1:01 a.m.

TEXARKANA — Two Miller County Quorum Court committees are considering calling for a special sales-tax election next year to pay for enlarging the jail to hold at least another 150 inmates.

In May, Miller County sheriff’s office Chief Deputy Mark Lewis said the jail, which opened in 2002, is holding slightly more than 300 inmates but that the lockup is only large enough to hold about 285 prisoners.

Last month, the county’s Budget and Finance Committee along with its Jail Committee met jointly to discuss possibly expanding the jail space.

Last week, the same two committees met again, not only to plan on expanding the jail to hold at least 150 more inmates but also to plan on how to pay for it through a special sales tax.

While a decision on an exact sales-tax amount is pending, members of both committees are potentially looking at holding public meetings as early as February, focusing on the proposed special election for later in 2022.

Last week, Miller County Sheriff Jackie Runion told both committees’ members that whatever plan they come up with would be welcomed.

Since problems with covid-19 linger, jail officials said that the need for more jail space — to socially distance inmates — is all the more necessary.

Miller County Quorum Court member John Haltom asked Miller County Judge Cathy Harrison if she could find out from state officials if some of the $4.2 million the county recently received in covid-19 American Rescue Fund Act money could be used to help out with jail expansion plans.

“If the money is there, we could sure use it now,” he said, to which Harrison said she would check.

Regarding costs, Miller County Elections Coordinator Linda Crawford said holding a special election next year would cost about $19,000 in order to cover the county’s 13 polling locations.

Lewis said that the county’s current annual jail operations maintenance budget is about $4.3 million.

After further discussion, both committees agreed to meet at 6 p.m. today.

Meeting topics include the special elections, hazard pay for county employees and a county coroner office location.

While a decision on an exact sales-tax amount is pending, members of both committees are potentially looking at holding public meetings as early as February, focusing on the proposed special election for later in 2022.

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