Voters approve tax to build Reno County jail

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- After more than a decade of trying, Reno County officials have persuaded voters to approve higher taxes to pay for a new jail and improvements for other county offices.

Voters on Tuesday approved a half-cent increase in the county sales tax by a margin of 77.4 percent to 22.6 percent, according to unofficial election results, The Hutchinson News reported ( ).

The money will be used for a new 250-bed jail, a secure entrance to the courthouse and Law Enforcement Center and renovating the current jail annex into spaces for other county offices. The current jail will be renovated for storage and more law enforcement offices.

The $28.9 million cost of the project will be repaid by revenue from the sales tax increase over eight to 10 years.

"It makes me feel really good that the public is finally supporting us as much as they are and trusting us on what we say we need," said Sheriff Randy Henderson, who has advocated for the new jail for 11 years.

County officials said the current jail -- built in 1971 -- and annex -- opened in 1998 -- are too small, poorly designed and don't meet safety and other standards of the American Correctional Association. The daily average inmate population last year was 152, and the daily average exceeded 170 in September and October. Reno County spends $400,000 a year to house its prisoners in other counties.

The new jail will have 200 beds in the main cellblock, plus 50 more at the jail complex for minimum-security prisoners, as well as a larger medical area and two classrooms. It also allows for the easy addition of a 40-bed cellblock if it is needed in the future.