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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Washington County Judge Joseph Wood (left) delivers his State of the County address Thursday alongside Sheriff Tim Helder before the start of the Quorum Court meeting at the courthouse in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County' justices of the peace put off action on a jail expansion, new radio system and a sales tax funding plan for both projects, saying they wanted more information.

The Quorum Court voted to send to the Jail/Law Enforcement/Courts Committee a package of ordinances related to the jail expansion, radio system upgrade, a bond issue funding proposal and a sales tax increase for jail operations and maintenance. The committee is set to have its first meeting of 2019 on Feb. 11.

Sheriff Tim Helder said he understands the need for an educational "get-to-know-you" process with nine new justices of the peace on the 15-member Quorum Court but he said there's an urgency about getting the project to the voters.

"We're two to three years out from completion of the jail expansion," Helder said. "Springdale is a year away from closing their jail."

Helder said the decision by Springdale to close its city jail is one factor driving the need for a jail expansion but not the only one. As Washington County and Northwest Arkansas' population grows, Helder said, the jail population grows with it. He said the county is working with judges and prosecutors to manage the population at the 710-bed detention facility, releasing lower-risk detainees when possible and using ankle monitors, but said the county "routinely" has 30 to 40 inmates sleeping on the floor.

The county has been considering a new pod for the jail, to house about 500 inmates, and a 100-bed minimum security facility with a total estimated cost of about $30 million. A $38 million bond issue, to cover any unexpected costs, would be presented to voters at a special election sometime in 2019. Voters would also be asked to approve a half percent sales tax increase to pay for a bond issue for the jail construction and buy new emergency communication system. The new radio system would be paid for through a separate $11 million bond issue.

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2019 State of Washington County

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Voters would be asked at the same special election to approve another .25 percent sales tax to cover additional operating and maintenance at the detention center.

Helder said he'll work on a presentation for the Quorum Court on the jail expansion and on a proposal to charge cities a fee for housing municipal inmates in the jail. The justices of the peace asked Helder to meet with mayors and police chiefs to discuss the possible fee.

Currently Fayetteville is charged a one-time $62 booking fee when city officers bring a prisoner to the jail. The county has a $62 daily fee it charges Madison County and the federal government.

The justices of the peace have discussed an ordinance setting the daily fee at $31 for 2019 and increasing it to $62 in 2020. A one-time booking fee was also considered, with that fee set at $31 for 2019 and $62 for 2020. The fees were tabled to allow for more discussion with the cities in Washington County.

County Judge Joseph Wood gave his "State of the County" address before the Quorum Court held it's first regular meeting of 2019. Wood invited other countywide officials to share brief remarks on the outlook for the county from their perspectives.

NW News on 01/18/2019

Print Headline: County officials send jail/radio plans to committee

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