City looks at alternative way to fund work release center

The Seymour City Council has axed an agreement with the Jackson County Council to help fund a work release center in the city because it would result in Seymour residents being double taxed, officials said.

But to keep the project alive, Mayor Craig Luedeman has a new idea on how to fund the center.

After a nearly hourlong discussion during Monday night’s council meeting, Luedeman suggested the city’s redevelopment commission pay the $152,632 annual payments for the next 20 years, which would be the city’s share of the overall $5.5 million cost of the center.

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Also expected to contribute to the project is Jackson and Jennings counties.

The work release center, which would allow first-time offenders to work jobs, earn money and pay taxes while serving their sentences, would be constructed on Seymour’s east side near the Jackson County Learning Center in one of the city’s tax increment finance districts. That location allows it to be funded with TIF and tech park revenue, not residential property taxes, Luedeman said.

Commission President Mike Jordan attended Monday’s council meeting and said he thinks it would be a good use for those funds.

“I personally would have no problems supporting this from the redevelopment commission,” Jordan said. “I think we have a chance to do something really good for the county and the city and our employment problem we have. In the overall scheme of things, $152,000 is not that much money.”

City attorney Rodney Farrow said he could not recommend the council sign the original agreement with the county because it does not comply with state statute.

“It’s not ready, and it’s not right,” he said of the agreement. “While I think the project has merit, the end result is Seymour taxpayers would be doubly taxed because they pay county income and property taxes, too.”

Farrow said the work release center is a county function, and city government is not responsible for taking care of things that fall under county government jurisdiction.

City Council President Jim Rebber said he has been in favor of the work release center from the beginning.

“If we can save 10 percent, 20 percent of these people, first-time offenders, so that they have a reasonable chance of not going back into jail, I would be for that,” he said.

His concern is after the city commits a portion of its economic development income tax to the project, the county would come back and take away its local option income tax funding to pay for the Jackson County Judicial Center in Brownstown.

“I’m looking for a way to control that,” he said.

LOIT revenue is used to fund public safety. He doesn’t want to see the mayor have to fight with the county every year to keep its LOIT money.

“It’s time to get over that,” he said.

Rebber said the county could raise taxes on all county residents, including those in Seymour, to make everyone pay for their share of the project.

“The county has a way to do this without your involvement,” Farrow said.

City Councilman John Reinhart said he had the same concerns.

“I’m for the work release center. I support the idea. I think it’s a good project,” he said. “My concern is we may be approached again about funding on the (judicial center). I can see us jumping in and working on one project or the other, but we aren’t going to be able to do them both.”

Reinhart said he would be in favor of helping fund the judicial center if the county imposed an additional income tax to pay for the work release center.

“But there’s still nothing that would prevent them from pulling that public safety money back from the city and pay for the judicial center,” he said. “I want some assurances that we aren’t going to lose money down the road.”

County Council President Dave Hall said the county will not raise taxes for the project.

“We know our options,” he said. “We have other ways to do it without raising taxes on anyone. That’s why we came to you guys.”

Luedeman said the end result of the work release center is to save people, and that is why Seymour should help fund it.

“I think it’s something we need to do,” he said. “I think the muddy water part of it is how we get there. That’s where we’re stuck.”

One of the reasons the discussions have a sense of urgency is a grant application to provide state funding for the operations of the work release center is due by Sunday night. That grant is for $1.5 million to fund operations and mental health and addiction services at the work release center.

“I think unfortunately, delaying this a little bit will have us back talking about funding an addition to the jail,” Luedeman said. “At some point, crowding at the jail will have to be addressed, and I think this is a way to address it. Any other counties that I’ve looked at that have a successful work release program, their jail population has significantly decreased.”

Andy Royalty, owner of a local roofing company, said the city will more than make up the cost of the project with a larger workforce and by rehabilitating offenders.

“Seymour is going to more than get that $152,000 back in jobs that are going to be created in Seymour and money that’s going to be spent for those people to go to lunch in Seymour and the gas that’s going to be bought in Seymour and the supplies to run the place that will come from Seymour,” Royalty said. “Those are things I don’t think we’re thinking about.”

Royalty said any town would benefit from the work release center being built there.

“As an employer in Jackson County, I could benefit,” he said. “I could employ over three-quarters of those folks that would be there every day, but right now, they are sitting at the jail doing nothing, where they could be a productive part of society. This is a way to get more people in the community working.”

The council needs to make it work because it would benefit everyone, he added.

“Guys, we’ve got to get over the politics,” Royalty said. “There’s no reason we can’t figure it out. We’re going to run out of time, and then the project goes from a $3 or $4 million project to an $8 or $10 million project.”