FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –A federal judge overseeing Allen County’s progress in building a new jail has set a date for the county commissioners to provide a status report on whether a recently approved .11 percent local income tax rate is enough to fund such a facility.
Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty on Monday ordered the Allen County Commissioners to file their report on Nov. 20.
It’s the latest in an ongoing saga to correct conditions at the current downtown Allen County Jail, which Leichty ruled last year in a class-action lawsuit violates inmates’ constitutional rights due to a multitude of issues – deteriorating conditions, understaffing and overcrowding among them.
The county commissioners and Allen County Council, which controls the county’s purse-strings to an extent, have been at odds for months on how to fund the jail.
Last month, county council approved a new .11 percent “correctional local income tax rate” to fund the jail, much to the chagrin of county commissioners who implored council to make that rate .2 percent to properly fund a proposed $318 million jail.
Now, Leichty wants commissioners, who are named along with the Allen County Sheriff in the class-action lawsuit, “to address specifically whether the (Allen County) Council’s funding mechanism sufficiently funds construction of the new jail.”
Leichty also wants to know if the funding mechanism “will require design changes and whether there will be any delays to the construction deadlines.”
Allen County Commissioners told WANE 15 last week the new jail will be funded as it is designed – with 1,150 beds for inmates – but it will come at a problematic cost for some taxpayers throughout the county.
In a letter to Allen County Council back on October 24, the commissioners’ requested the implementation of .15 Correctional LIT (local income tax).
With the new .11% increase in Allen County income tax, the new total will be 1.59 percent, but Peters said adding on to the local income tax is “patently unfair” to taxpayers in unincorporated Allen County.
Peters said 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 last week.
“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.
Whether those factors will be presented in the commissioners’ report to Leichty remains to be seen.
Councilman Paul Lagemann took exception to Peters’ remarks at the time last week.
He told WANE 15 the council kept the correctional local income tax at .11% as low as possible “because it’s a brand-new tax” while pointing to existing money already in the bank.
Every year, about $5 million from the local income tax goes unspent. By using that, it offsets the $6 million that the commissioners say is being taken away from the unincorporated county taxpayers, Lagemann said.
“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.”
Councilmembers also suggested using other county funds to fill in gaps not covered by the local income tax.
Although the Council was not named in the lawsuit that sparked the need for a new jail, there was a threat they would be added to the suit if there was no action on the new jail.