Lafourche voters to decide on jail tax - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Lafourche voters to decide on jail tax

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THIBODAUX, La. - There's constant noise inside the Lafourche Parish Detention Center.

The loud hum of a fan replacing a broken air conditioner, the metallic clang of leg irons and the steady yells from inmates in the crowded cells.

Built for less than 100 inmates in the 1970s, this jail now houses 245.

"We are overcrowded in this jail, and we're forced to ship prisoners out of the jail to be housed in other parishes at a cost of over $1 million a year to the taxpayers," said Deputy Brennan Matherne, spokesperson for the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office.

Lafourche voters will decide Saturday if their tax dollars should go to a new jail.

It wouldn't cost property owners additional money; instead, a mill currently going the library system would be rededicated to build a detention center. That mill would generate about $800,000 a year and the parish would put up an additional $600,000 annually.

Council members support the plan.

"It's the worst I've ever seen, and I visited about seven or eight jails," said Council Chair Lindel Toups. "I think it's really needed, and we can build the jail without costing the taxpayers any money."

Officials in Lafourche Parish worry if they don't voluntarily build a new jail now, they could soon be ordered to do it by federal mandate.

The library system, too, has standards to meet, and director Laura Sanders said it can't do so with less money. She said state guidelines call for bigger facilities, more librarians and added programs.

"There are three levels: There's minimum, there's middle-of-the-road and there's exceeding expectations," she said. "We would like to eventually be able to be middle of the road."

Sanders feels the library system is being punished for maintaining a surplus, and she believes the parish could find the money somewhere else.

"If you take $800,000 away from our budget every year for 30 years, that's $24 million," she said. "We will have to make cuts."

From the quiet branches of the library system to the loud halls of the jail, it's the voters who will have the last word.

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