FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County Council reversed course from its initial plan posted on its website earlier this week and will not revisit or vote on a local income tax increase designed to fund the construction of a new jail Thursday.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to be focused on the county’s budget.
The original agenda included a revisitation of what has become a contentious income tax increase connected to the jail, with county commissioners arguing it is badly needed for construction of a new facility while councilmembers have balked at the price tag and how the situation surrounding the current downtown facility has been handled.
Previously, council voted down a proposed .2 percent local income tax increase which Allen County Commissioners said was needed to fund a roughly $300 million jail officials want to build on Meyer Road near New Haven.
As part of an ACLU class action lawsuit brought against the county commissioners and the Allen County Sheriff, a federal judge last year ruled conditions at the current county jail downtown violates inmates’ rights due to overcrowding and understaffing.
The judge ordered commissioners F. Nelson Peters, Therese M. Brown and Richard Beck as well as the sheriff – then David Gladieaux but now Troy Hershberger – to rectify the problem.
County officials decided a new jail would be a better option than remodeling or adding on to the current facility. Commissioners quickly went about buying land while hiring an architecture firm to draw up plans while the sheriff’s department began hiring more correctional officers for the current facility.
Funding for the new jail, however, became far from a sure bet when county council – which controls the county’s purse strings when it comes to paying for the facility – balked at the proposed .2 percent jail income tax by a 4-2 vote this past summer.
A few council members have expressed publicly they felt the process in approving a new jail – including the hiring of an architecture firm at three times the rate of the lowest bidder – was mismanaged.
The delay in approving funding, though, has brought county council on the cusp of being brought into the ACLU lawsuit that has embroiled commissioners.
Judge Damon Leichty, who ruled the current jail violates inmates rights, ordered all involved to “act or answer” during a hearing last week and set the deadline to find funding for a new jail as Nov. 1.
If the council does not approve the funding by the end of this month, the county won’t be able to collect taxes this year toward new jail construction. That could push completion past the 2027 target date, officials have said.
It could also lead to county council being added as defendants in the lawsuit, an attorney for the ACLU warned during last week’s court hearing.