Work release center funding approved

After weeks of going back and forth, three local government entities have committed funds to build a work release center in Seymour.

Late last week, the Seymour Redevelopment Commission met in a special session to discuss the city council’s request to use tax increment financing revenue to fund the city’s share of the project.

That amounts to annual payments not to exceed $152,632 annually for 20 years for a total of $3,052,640. That figure could be less if the building is paid off sooner. Seymour’s payments will begin in 2020.

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The Jennings County Council also approved funding for the project last week. The third party involved is the Jackson County Council.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $5.5 million.

The Seymour Redevelopment Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to support the project. Commissioner Mark Dennis was absent from the meeting.

The commission’s money comes from the city’s TIF districts and does not involve residential property taxes. Instead, money is captured from new industrial development or increased property values in the TIF districts and is set aside for projects aimed at luring new development.

Although the work release center is technically not in a TIF district, it will be on property that adjoins a TIF district, making it eligible to receive TIF revenue. The existing TIF districts expire in 2038.

The county’s intent is to pay off the bonds as soon as possible by utilizing surplus money generated by inmates housed at the work release center.

The county council first asked the city council to help fund the project, but city attorney Rodney Farrow said doing so would result in double taxation for city residents because they pay county taxes, too.

Plans for the facility, which is to be built on property on Dupont Drive near the Jackson County Learning Center on the city’s east side, call for 152 beds to house first-time and low-level offenders. Instead of sitting in jail, those men and women will work in local factories and businesses so they can earn money while they serve their sentences.

Some of that money will go back to the work release center so it becomes a self-sufficient program, said J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections. Those involved with the project hope to have at least 80 inmates in the center in its first year of operation.

Brewer said the reason Seymour was chosen as the site for the center is because that’s where most of the jobs are.

Besides being able to work, inmates approved for the work release program will have access to mental health and addiction treatment and behavioral change classes, he said.

“We’re trying to fix people,” Brewer said. “That’s not the same as fixing a road or building a building or fixing your car. You can’t plug something in and find out what’s wrong with it and go buy that part. You can’t put asphalt over it and make it better. It takes a lot of effort, and our jails don’t have the means to do that type of work. We do.”

The goal is to get the offenders employed so they can pay their child support, restitution payments and income taxes and do the things that everyone else does, he said.

“To make a better life for themselves and a better place to live for the rest of our community, that is the intent of the program,” he said.

Brewer is seeking a state grant to fund operations, but he said that money can’t be used for construction.

“That has to have the local buy-in,” he said. “The state doesn’t want to pay for that. They don’t want to build prisons for themselves. They certainly don’t want to build work release centers or jails for us.”

City Plan Commission member John Reinhart, who also sits on the city council, said everyone has been in favor of the project from the beginning, but there were concerns about the funding.

“The devil has been in the details,” he said.

Reinhart recommended the interlocal agreement between the city and county be amended so if the bonds are ever refinanced, any savings would be equally divided between the three participating parties.

When the jail bonds were refinanced, Reinhart said the city never saved money and continued to make $300,0000 annual payments to the county.

He also said he wanted to see a commitment from the county that during the 20 years of the agreement, the city’s share of the local income tax on economic development and public safety is not withheld.

“I’m looking out for the city and the city taxpayer here also,” he said.

City Councilman Lloyd Hudson spoke at Thursday’s meeting to convince commissioners to approve the funding.

“I think this is going to be a real plus for the community, for the overcrowding of the jail and help us not to have that situation and to keep from having to add onto the jail or building a new one,” he said.

The facility will benefit local employers by increasing the local labor pool and will give the inmates a better chance for rehabilitation, leading to decreased crime overall, he said.

Also speaking in favor of the project was local roofer Andy Royalty. He said the county’s low unemployment rate is stifling the city’s ability to bring in new businesses, and the work release center will help fill jobs.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is if we can save one person, what’s the generational effect of that?” he asked. “I think we’ve got to measure that. One life is worth making the time and making the investment.”