by Scott McClallen
Leaders on July 25 will vote on whether to ask voters to approve a 0.98 mill tax hike for 21 years to build a $371 million new Macomb County Jail.
The measure could be on the ballot as soon as November.
A poll commissioned by the county earlier this month shows that Macomb County voters oppose the tax hike proposal by more than a 2-1 margin.
About 60 percent of likely voters opposed the measure with 25 percent supporting, according to Probolsky Research. Fifteen percent were undecided.
Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet said the poll reflected public opinion.
“The jail proposal is way too expensive,” Drolet said. “Asking citizens to raise taxes on their homes for 20 years to build a palatial new jail is absurd. Especially when citizens endure crumbling roads and other pressing needs.”
Drolet said they must first repay county debts to finance the jail without tax hikes.
About 58.5 percent of respondents identified Macomb County’s top issues as roads and infrastructure, with 10.8 percent naming taxes, and fewer citing crime, education, water quality, and employment.
Hackel said the measure could be pushed to the August 2020 primary to give officials more time to argue for the expenses, but warned the price could jump $34 million.
If approved in November, construction could start in the fall of 2020 or the spring of 2021.
A residential property with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay an additional $98 per year, officials said.
The proposed new jail would include:
- 1,518-bed jail and sheriff’s office on the existing Mount Clemens lockup.
- 166 beds for mental health (up from 24) and 84 beds for medical needs (up from seven), according to the board committee meeting packet.
- 86 additional positions, mostly corrections deputies and community corrections staff
Officials said 0.78 mills would fund the new project and 0.20 mills would be for operations and personnel costs.
Wickersham says the proposed new jail would offer a central intake that would better determine who needs to stay in jail based on their crime and special needs, including health, mental health or substance abuse issues.
Hackel alluded to “the liability issue” multiple times, noting that the county has been sued over inmate deaths and other alleged mistreatment. At least 20 people have died since 2012, ranging from sepsis to drug overdoses to suicide.
Video showed David Stojcevski naked, twitching and seizing for 48 hours without medical attention or food for five days before he died on his cell floor.
Stojcevski developed an opioid addiction and died from “acute withdrawal”, according to the county medical examiner. Stojcevski was jailed for an unpaid traffic ticket.
Neighboring Oakland County, which houses more than 400 inmates a day, saw less than half the number of deaths that Macomb reported.
Macomb handles 17,000 to 19,000 inmates a year.
“We can do better,” Wickersham said of the jail.” he said. “This problem isn’t going to go away.”
A 2017 study also recommended the jail and larger county justice system divert nonviolent inmates. Currently, 40-50 percent of the jail’s population hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
The oldest part is from 1954 with various additions. The “D Block” and maximum security have no air conditioning.
“It’s falling apart,” Wickersham said. “I mean, we have glass tiles falling off second floors in inmate housing.”
The county has spent $27.5 million on lockup infrastructure costs since 2010.
The jail has suffered from chronic overcrowding in the past. Four years ago, a judge approved releasing 104 inmates during an overcrowding emergency – the 15th such emergency since 2003.
– – –
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.