Dual local jail proposals move forward, offering $50M, increased funding capacity to South Dakota counties
“We left last session thinking there would be a pot of money set aside for country incarceration needs," Sen. Helene Duhamel, of Rapid City, said. That funding never materialized.
PIERRE, S.D. — Two potential avenues for aiding South Dakota counties in the construction and maintenance of jails moved through different stages of the legislative process on Monday, Feb. 6. The progress gives the small group of legislators who studied the state’s aging county jail infrastructure this past summer hope that help is coming.
The dual policy initiatives — allowing counties to regionalize jail operations while also creating a $50 million funding pool to help with those efforts — are a response to a lack of options for counties faced with aging jails, growing costs and increased incarceration needs.
“Every tool we get in the toolbox is just that much more we can use,” Gene Cox, the mayor of Mobridge, which has had issues with their local jail, told the Senate Local Government committee on Monday.
On the Senate floor, Senate Bill 74, which would allow counties the option to formally team up in their construction and operation of jails, passed by a 27-8 margin. Proponents emphasize the flexibility offered to counties that already act as regional hubs for prisoners but have faced difficulty in raising funds for upgrades on their own, with the primary example in Brown County.
“The level of crime will dictate the needs of each county, the counties then take that authority and borrow against it,” said Sen. Helene Duhamel, of Rapid City, who sat on the regional jail summer study. “The new levy can be used for capital costs and operating costs, even transportation costs, which is a big burden in many counties.”
Opponents criticize the idea as a thinly veiled raise of South Dakota’s taxes, though the bill’s backers point out the power to raise bonds would still have to be referred to the people.
An amendment advanced by Sen. Jim Stalzer, of Sioux Falls, sought to remedy a few of the concerns laid out by the Department of Revenue during its committee hearing last week, mainly striking a clause that would have allowed different areas in a county or municipality to be taxed at different rates, a potential constitutional question raised in committee.
According to its proponents, the reasoning behind creating a new authority — rather than using the joint powers agreement already available to counties — is the ability of this new authority to give certainty to those buying bonds that they will be repaid. Though rare, proponents say there have been cases of joint powers agreements balking on their commitments.
Another potential tool for counties comes in the form of Senate Bill 155, a $50 million investment — $10 million in grants and $40 million in a loan fund — into regional jail authorities, counties and municipalities struggling to pass bond measures for updating jails, several of which are more than a century old. The proposal passed the Senate Local Government committee Monday morning by a 6-0 vote and is on its way to the Joint Appropriations Committee.
“These facilities are inefficient and unsafe, for prisoners and for the staff,” Sen. Bryan Breitling, of Miller, said during his testimony in front of the local government committee.
The proposal for a set of funds to buttress county-specific fundraising and bonding efforts comes on the heels of lawmakers finding out that the tens of millions in state dollars housed in the Incarceration Construction Fund would be funneled toward upgrades to state prisons.
“We left last session thinking there would be a pot of money set aside for country incarceration needs. We worked from that premise all summer long,” Duhamel said.”We come back here and find out that the administration wants all of that $87 million for the state prison system.”
Moving forward, the regional jail authority concept will head to the House side of the South Dakota State Capitol. The $50 million in funds for improving jails will go to appropriators, who will consider it in the full context of the state budget.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.