ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) –The Allen County Commissioners say the jail funding approved by the Allen County Council last week is the amount needed to build a new $318 million jail on Meyer Road.
What they don’t like is the way it’s being funded.
The commissioners requested a separate .2% local income tax (LIT, formerly CEDIT Community Economic Income Tax) that would have spread costs equally over the whole county taxpayer system, Commissioner Nelson Peters said after the weekly legislative meeting Friday morning. The Jail LIT was created by the state legislature to allow counties to build correctional or rehabilitation facilities.
Instead, the council downsized the Jail LIT to .11% and turned to other funding to fill the gap. With the .11% increase in Allen County income tax, the new total will be 1.59%, but Peters said adding on to the local income tax is “patently unfair” to taxpayers in unincorporated Allen County.
Peters says using the existing local income tax will deprive taxpayers in unincorporated Allen County of $6 million annually, money that could go to quality of life projects.
Over the 20-year life of the project’s funding, $6 million annually from unincorporated county taxpayers amounts to about one third of the entire jail cost or $120 million, Peters said.
“That $6 million will come from people who live in unincorporated Allen County which is Poe and Hoagland and Harlan and Monroeville and places like that outside of Fort Wayne and New Haven. My contention has been that is patently unfair to have those people pay yet an even more disproportionate portion of funding the jail when they’re already paying more than they should be to fund that jail,” Peters said.
Why? Peters says 80% of the jail’s inmates are arrested in Fort Wayne, not in the unincorporated county. “Yet the city of Fort Wayne only pays about 60% of the bill to house those people,” Peters said.
“To come back at them and say it’s going to cost you an additional $6 million per year to fund the jail and by the way, those funds can no longer be used to fund any of your quality of life projects, is patently unfair,” Peters said. Other sources totaling $318 million include $30 million from the county’s $50 million general fund – or cash on hand -and $25 in ARPA funds, money from the federal government designated to recoup monies lost during the pandemic.
The commissioners, who oversee all of Allen County’s buildings, were forced to build a new jail after federal judge Damon R. Leichty ruled in March 2022 in favor of the Indiana ACLU and Allen County inmates that conditions in the local jail were and are inhumane, due to overcrowding and understaffing.
Councilman Paul Lagemann took exception to Peters’ remarks.
He said the council kept the jail LIT at .11% as low as possible “because it’s a brand new tax,” and pointed to existing money already in the bank.
Every year, about $5 million from the LIT tax goes unspent. By using that, it offsets the $6 million that the commissioners say is being taken away from the unincorporated county taxpayers.
“We’re going to get $5 million a year, currently going unspent,” Lagemann said. “We don’t want to create a new tax when the revenues from that existing tax go unspent.” Lagemann also says that the county spends nearly half of the other CEDIT money on Fort Wayne projects.
Because the new jail project is fully funded, no current building plans will be sacrificed and that includes the mental health beds and medical facility.
Peters said about 100 beds out of the 1,150 mandated by the judge will be for infirmary services and segregating the severely mentally ill who are incarcerated.
“I think there may have been a misnomer and some people were thinking we were building a huge mental health facility. That’s not the case. What we’re doing is building a place where we can segregate those who have severe mental debilitation in the jail from those who don’t,” Peters said.
“Right now, they are all mixed in the general population and that’s just simply not a good formula when you’re incarcerating individuals in confined spaces like that,” Peters added.
Peters doesn’t foresee the medical units costing much more than the regular PODS.
“They may be a little more because you’re running doctors in and out of this particular area, but these are needs that are met in the current jail, as it is, anyway. They’re just met in the general population as opposed to segregating individuals,” Peters said.
What the commissioners said they would like to see is the state loosening up their Medicaid healthcare rule. Currently, an inmate loses his or her Medicaid once incarceration begins.
Allen County isn’t the only entity that would like to see that burden removed from the taxpayers. Once an individual is incarcerated, the county picks up the medical costs now under contract with Quality Correctional Care, a for-profit company based in Carmel, that holds the majority of jail medical contracts in the state.
“We’ll take another run at the state General Assembly to hopefully free up and approve what they call Medicaid 1115 waivers. Those are waivers that allow Medicaid to follow an inmate through the system while they are incarcerated rather than having those dollars shut off right now like they do when someone is placed in a confinement facility,” Peters said.
The commissioners will return to the General Assembly next year to ask again.
“I think there’s certainly more of an awareness now than there was last year or the year before,” Peters said. “And while we would like to have a dispensation for Allen County, if they can do it on a statewide level, that would be equally as effective.”