More than 100 signatures still needed to put jail project on May ballot

GREENFIELD — Local officials have until Thursday to finish collecting the 525 signatures needed to send the proposed criminal justice complex project to voters in May.

Last month, the county commissioners moved forward with plans to borrow up to $55 million needed to build a new 440-inmate jail and renovate other departments, including the county’s community corrections facility.

County officials have collected nearly 300 of the 525 signatures needed so far for the project to be voted on by residents.

Without those signatures, the bond process can move forward without a referendum, according to state law. And the money borrowed for the project would be paid back by increased taxes charged to property owners who haven’t reached the state’s tax caps.

County commissioner John Jessup encouraged residents who don’t know much about the project or who haven’t signed the petition to attend a planning meeting at 11:30 a.m. today at the courthouse annex, 111 American Legion Place.

County leaders will have petitions on hand to collect residents’ signatures, he said.

Signing the petition floating around doesn’t indicate a property owner or voter supports the project, county councilman Bill Bolander added. But collecting the 525 signatures ensures every voter’s voice is heard, officials said.

For months, officials have been debating how to accommodate a growing inmate population at the Hancock County Jail, which consistently houses more inmates than the 157 it was designed to hold.

Last April, a study found the best solution is building a new and larger facility designed to meet the county’s needs for the next 20 years.

The proposal has been heavily debated, with some county officials wondering whether it’s the best option given the hefty price tag.

On one thing, most officials agree: The public — who would ultimately pay for the project — should have a chance to weigh in.

If placed on the ballot, the question would ask whether residents support an increase in property taxes to pay for the project. If it’s approved, the increase would impact every property owner in Hancock County, regardless of whether they’ve reached tax caps.

Under state law, homeowners can be taxed up to 1 percent of their home’s assessed value. The cap for farmland and rentals is 2 percent and 3 percent for others.

Public input on the project has been mixed. The county commissioners and council have held two public hearings on the proposal so far.

If voters approve the referendum in May, it signals to leaders there’s public support for the project, officials said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or