County weighs millage for new jail

MANISTIQUE — The Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners will decide whether or not a millage proposal for the creation of a new county jail should move forward next month.

If it is approved by the board, the proposal would ask Schoolcraft County voters if they are in favor of a millage for up to four mills ($4 per $1,000 of taxable value) for the construction and operation of a brand-new jail. The millage would last for 20 years.

Board of Commissioners Chair Craig Reiter said the potential millage would hopefully not have to be levied in full, but the proposed amount would ensure the jail project could go forward if approved by voters even if construction costs increase.

“We need to have that in the millage, because it may be that much,” he said.

The new jail would be a two-story facility with 40 beds at the time of its opening.

“If we find that we need more beds, it’s convertible to a 52-bed,” Reiter said.

A vote on the millage proposal was set to take place during a Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday. However, it was tabled because two of the board’s members were not present due to family issues.

“I wanted all five commissioners there for the vote,” Reiter said.

As a result, the board’s vote on the millage proposal has been pushed back to late September. At that time, Reiter will make a motion to include the millage proposal on Schoolcraft County’s March 2020 ballot — he noted it will be the county’s first election of 2020, and it will be too late to get the proposal on the ballot for November 2019.

In the 2018 general election, voters in Schoolcraft County chose not to support a millage proposal that would have funded the creation of a new county jail. During the election, 1,835 votes — or 48.58 percent — were cast in favor of a 20-year millage request for up to 3 mills, or $3 per $1,000 of taxable value, from 2018 to 2037 on all property in Schoolcraft County to build, operate, furnish and equip a new county jail and to continue the sheriff’s road patrol for the county. However, 1,942 votes — or 51.42 percent — were cast against the request.

“The last millage only failed by 107 votes,” Reiter said.

According to Reiter, the feedback he heard indicated county residents had two major concerns with the previous millage proposal: that the new jail would have been located away from the courthouse and that road patrol funding was included in the millage request. He said the new millage proposal would address both of these concerns.

Reiter said the new jail would be located near the Schoolcraft County Courthouse, where a veterans memorial stands today.

“We would be relocating that to the front,” he said of the memorial.

The existing jail would be torn down after the completion of the new facility.

Additionally, Reiter noted the new millage proposal would not include road patrol funding.

Reiter said he is fairly confident in the millage proposal’s chances.

“It will be up to the commissioners whether we do or not, but I feel it has a good chance of passing,” he said.