Proposal to build new jail loses in landslide

The exterior of Emerson School in Owosso, one of the polling locations, is seen in this Tuesday photo. Voters went to the polls to decide on a proposed jail millage.

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — In a crushing defeat, the proposed bond for a new jail for Shiawassee County was rejected by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio.

According to the Shiawassee County clerk’s final tally, with all 26 precincts reporting, the proposal was defeated 7,056 (70.55 percent) to 2,945 (29.45 percent). There are 52,494 total registered voters in Shiawassee County; turnout was 19.05 percent.

The hefty price tag attached to the proposal apparently worried many, which was a theme among voters Tuesday.

The proposal would have raised $37 million to construct a new facility north of downtown Corunna. The 20-year, 1.64-mill levy to pay off the bond would have cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $50,000 $82 per year.

Sheriff Brian BeGole could not be reached for comment this morning.

Denny and Margo Jenkins both voted against the millage, but said they would support a scaled-down proposal.

“We can’t afford it. With the school millages and everything,” Margo Jenkins said after voting Tuesday. “We don’t need a jail that costs that much money. They’re just going to put up the millage for votes again and again until it passes. It cost Saginaw far less than this for a much bigger jail.”

“They kept bringing up the school millage until it passed,” Denny Jenkins said. “I realize they need some help, but why don’t they do something else, like use the middle school and upgrade that?”

Frank Livingston voted in favor of the bond despite concerns about the price tag.

“We need it,” Livingston said. “My only reservation is that I think it was a little bit too large a plan. I would have liked to have seen an option for a smaller facility.”

Tiffany Hosler said she and her husband both voted for the millage because the county needs a new jail. She said they were convinced after taking a tour of the current jail and seeing its condition.

“We decided as a family to vote yes,” Hosler said. “Yes, it’s going to raise taxes, but in the long run our county needs a new jail. It is horrible. We did a few of the (tours) so we go to see how bad it is. I don’t care if you’re a criminal or not. Nobody should live in those conditions. Not only that, but with the new jail, we can house people from other counties that are overbooked, so that’s going to bring money into our county that we desperately need.”

Aaron Corey Tuesday morning voted no, due to the cost of the proposed jail. He said the county could have put forth a cheaper plan.

“Thirty-seven million for a new jail?” Corey said. “It cost $22 million to build a hospital in Grand Rapids and they want $37 million to build a jail? What are they building, a Taj Mahal?”

The $37-million proposal was for the construction of a new jail for the county to replace the existing facility, built in 1963. The current jail has many issues with plumbing, roof, electrical system, heating and cooling systems and ventilation.

The current jail was originally designed with a capacity for 47 inmates, and has been upgraded several times since its construction and now has a capacity for 132 inmates, and is 25,000 square feet. A study completed in 2018 found the jail is essentially obsolete and could be subject to closure by court order unless improvements or made or it is replaced.

In February, the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve a bond proposal for a new jail on the ballot. The proposal was for 20 years with an expected 1.64-mill levy to finance construction of a jail on county-owned property on Shiawassee Street in Corunna.

The new jail would have been 62,786 square feet, and increased capacity to 224. Had the millage passed, the new jail would have featured double-stacked cells that could be observed from a single control room. It would have also featured additional office space, an indoor rec area, an improved kitchen, laundry, library, classrooms for programs to curb recidivism, as well as a new entrance at the courthouse in Corunna, which would allow prisoners to be transported.

The millage would have brought in an estimated $2.88 million in its first year for construction of the jail, operating costs for equipment and maintenance. The current jail would have been demolished.

The millage would have raised an estimated $70 million over its lifetime. Of that cost, $54 million would have covered the principal amount and interest on the $37.7 million bond used for construction of the jail; $5.6 million would have paid for operational costs; $6 million would pay for programs to curb recidivism, and there would be a $4 million surplus.

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