By JESSIE SMITH
LR News Contributor
On Sept. 10, the residents of Little River County will vote in a special election on three ballot issues that will determine whether or not the county will build a new jail.
The current jail has no kitchen, laundry facility, medical room or capacity to house female prisoners, and based on the Arkansas Jail Standards, the jail cannot continue to operate in this fashion. If a new jail is not built, the current jail will close in December 2019.
On the ballot, voters will find three items related to the jail: a 3/8 percent increase in sales tax for the construction of the new jail, a 1/4 percent increase in sales tax for the operation of the jail and the issuance of the bond. All three issues must pass in order for the county to build a new jail.
The Little River County Jail Standard Work Group was the committee formed to research how to best correct the problems in the jail, and as a member of that committee as well as chairman of the Support Our Safety for Little River County committee, Joe Mack Bennett has been conducting presentations across the county to spread the facts about the new jail and the upcoming vote. He presented at the Winthrop Methodist Fellowship Hall on Aug. 15, and afterward, he and the Little River County sheriff and judge answered questions from the attending citizens.
“All we’re wanting to do is to give the people the actual facts,” Bennett said. “We want to give them the facts and then let them vote the way that they see it based on the facts.”
Bennett said every meeting has been positive, and he plans to conduct more presentations in Ashdown and in Wilton.
The measures to build a new jail have been on the ballot twice before — in 2009 and 2010 — but both times, the items did not pass.
“I feel this time that the people have got to make some type of decision,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to do something in the county, or … we’re going to be turning prisoners loose.”
If the three ballot items pass, the budget for the new jail will not exceed $8.5 million, including the cost of the 10 acres required to build the jail. The new facility will hold 70 prisoners compared to the current limit of 24 prisoners.
Citizens can participate in early voting Sept. 3-9, and the date of the special election is set for Sept. 10.
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