LUMBERTON — A Lumberton resident has started an online petition calling for Robeson County officials not to burden taxpayers with the cost of a new jail.
The petition was recently posted on the website Change.org. and Facebook by Jim Tripp, a pharmacist. It states that Robeson County residents “cannot afford a tax increase to pay for a new jail.”
“I’m tired of people trying to push decisions down our throat,” said Tripp, whose petition as of Friday morning had 27 signatures. “We can’t afford more taxes. Citizens in Robeson County are in dire straits and can’t afford to pay for a new jail.”
The petition can be viewed at http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-robeson-county-jail-sign-the-petition-to-stop-construction-of-a-new-jail-for-robeson-county.
Tripp said the state should pay for the construction if it is going to demand a new facility be built.
Tripp said that he hopes his petition will encourage others to express their opposition to a new jail.
The Robeson County commissioners are currently trying to decide how to pay for construction of a new jail, a facility that is expected to cost as much as $40 million.
Although the state has not established a deadline for a new jail, overcrowding and difficulty for the 21-year-old facility to meet existing jail standards have resulted in the state putting a 420-inmate cap on the number of inmates who can be housed in the facility.
County Manager Ricky Harris said this week that the county has no choice but to “consider” construction, a “policy decision” that falls directly on the shoulders of the county commissioners.”
“This is something we have to look at,” Harris said. “We have to consider the number of inmates we have and how we are to house them.”
Harris earlier this month said that funding the project will be a challenge because the county has no extra money to take on such an expensive venture.
According to the manager, it could take as much as a nickel increase onn the county’s property tax rate of 77 cents per $100 of property value to fund the project. The county’s property tax rate is already in the top 20 highest in the state.
Harris said that an increase in the sales tax would require approval by the state General Assembly. How much of an increase in sales tax would be needed has not yet been determined, but the last sales tax increase in Robeson County was a quarter of a cent in 2010, according to Harris, who said the increase has resulted in an annual revenue increase of about $1.5 million.
Complicating the funding issue for the commissioners is a recent request by the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education that the county help the school district fund construction of a technology high school that could cost as much as $44 million. Supporters of the school say that the facility will prepare students with the high-tech skills they need to enter the workforce immediately following high school graduation and boost the local economy by encouraging businesses to locate in Robeson and surrounding counties.
Tripp’s petition can be viewed at http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-robeson-county-jail-sign-the-petition-to-stop-construction-of-a-new-jail-for-robeson-county.