Budish Proposes Extension Of Convention Center Sales Tax To Fund New Jail

Cuyahoga County Jail in Downtown Cleveland
The Cuyahoga County Jail with ground floor windows boarded up in the aftermath of the May 30, 2020, protests against police brutality in Downtown Cleveland. [Matthew Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 10:15 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021

Cuyahoga County plans to pay for a new jail by extending the life of a 0.25 percent sales tax first created to pay for a new Convention Center.

Proceeds from the tax, which expires in 2027, now go toward paying off debt for the center, the Global Center for Health Innovation and the Hilton Hotel, said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish during a press conference Wednesday. Under Budish’s plan, the tax dollars would go toward the new jail starting in 2028 and continue indefinitely.

It’s been close to a year since officials agreed to build a new jail, without releasing details on how it would be paid, until now. During his State of the County speech in May, Budish said a new jail could be built without increasing taxes.

He defended that statement Wednesday.

“This is an extension, this is not an increase,” Budish said. “So the fact that in 2028, people will be paying a sales tax which is no higher than what they are paying now or what they’ve been paying, there is no increase to this funding.”

The proposal will go to county council for approval.

The quarter-percent tax brought in $52 million in 2020. According to the county’s projections, the debt from bonds sold to finance a new jail will cost $35 million a year. The county plans to use the remaining tax revenue on other capital projects.

“A significant benefit of having those additional funds is that we have other capital projects that we are currently considering,” Budish said. “One that we’re starting to talk about tomorrow [at a Justice Center Steering Committee meeting] is the Courts Tower as part of the Justice Center. Whether we rehab them or move them, the fact is they will be very expensive.”

The current price tag for the new jail is as much as $550 million but that could change. The county still hasn’t acquired land to build on. There are also indications the size of the jail will grow.

Project Management Consultants Managing Director Jeffrey Applebaum told county council in June there would be “tremendous cost savings if we can just build for 1600 [beds]” and anything larger would drive up the cost.

According to a press release from the county executive’s office sent out Wednesday, the county now envisions enough space for 1900 detainees.

The average daily population at the jail currently hovers around 1600, with a COVID-19 order restricting who could be brought to the jail still in place.

County officials in the Justice Center Steering Committee meet Thursday to discuss potentially increasing the size of the new jail.

The county hopes to have a new facility built by 2025.

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