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May 18, 2021

Furgy Went A-Courtin'

Dee Bonner


Mayor Scott Furgeson is on a mission. He intends to purchase the First Christian Church building located across the street from City Hall.

The mayor plans to use the church sanctuary as a city council chambers and to convert the second floor of the current city hall into additional office space. He claims the city administration is woefully crowded and out of room.

The mayor also thinks it "makes good sense" for the city to buy the building in order to move the city police department out of the Criminal Justice Center and into the church. Mayor Furgeson says it makes good sense because the city "will be charged rent by the county after we make our last jail payments next year."

Furgeson says County Councilman Terry Smith and County Commissioner Tony Newton told him the county will begin charging the city about $203,000 in rent and almost $50,000 in utilities a year.

According to the mayor, the city has been paying more than $355,000 a year for the past 14 years to help pay for the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center. Furgeson said the original jail funding arrangement was agreed to by a previous administration. As a result, the city has "contributed nearly $5 million dollars to the jail project and received nothing in return."

The mayor's claims of crowded offices and the threat of future rent payments seem to have succeeded in accelerating his $2 million dollar pet project. The Shelbyville News recently reported that the city council has given Mayor Furgeson permission to pursue negotiations with the church.

Apparently the city council, the police chief, the sheriff, and county officials have thoroughly examined the mayor's proposal. Otherwise, this might seem like one of those dreaded "done deals." Right?

Hmmmm....

Maybe, just for fun, we should review a brief history of the Criminal Justice Center Project. It goes like this:

In order to comply with the settlement of a lawsuit filed by inmates in 1990, plans for a new Shelby County Jail were launched in the Spring of 1991.

Considerable public debate followed on how to pay for the $14.4 million dollar jail. It was during this period that the Shelby County Council imposed a 0.25 percent county economic development income tax (EDIT) with the hope that it would pay for all, or a portion, of the jail building project. The city also pledged some financial backing for the project.

When all was said and done, Shelby County used a combination of property taxes and EDIT money to pay the bonds for the new Criminal Justice Center.

The property tax rate for the new jail started at 14 cents per $100 of assessed value in 1994 and then fluctuated between 11 and 12 cents. The rate declined because income tax revenue kept going up.

In addition to the property tax, a percentage of the economic development income tax imposed in 1991 was designated for the jail payments. Originally, Shelby County contributed 75 percent, Shelbyville contributed 60 percent, and Morristown contributed 15 percent of their shares of annual EDIT money.

Please keep reading, because this might get really interesting....

After a few years, EDIT tax collections increased and surpluses accumulated in the jail fund. This was money that couldn't be transferred or invested. And, it was claimed that penalties would not allow for the jail bonds to be paid off early.

Eventually, county and city officials began lusting after the surplus tax money and by late 1999, they amended the city's agreement with Shelby County to pay for the city's share of the Criminal Justice Center. The change freed up about $200,000 of EDIT money and obligated the city to a flat $355,000 annual payment for jail bond payments. That amount translated to 60 percent in 1994 figures and is the jail payment amount currently referred to by Mayor Furgeson.

In addition to the annual contribution for jail bond payments, the city police department also pays a portion of the utilities. When the new jail was built, the city agreed to pay 22 percent of all utilities, including water, sewer, electric and gas. Why 22 percent? Because it had been determined that the city occupied 22 percent of the space.

What have we learned so far?

Well, first and foremost, we've learned that there is an agreement between Shelby County and the City of Shelbyville!

But wait! There's more!

The agreement was drafted by (then) county attorney Jerry Lux and (then) city attorney Jeff Linder. Other officials involved at the time were, Mayor Dan Theobald, Police Chief Robert Nolley, and Sheriff Mike Herndon.

The agreement included:

How much space each department received

How to divide utility, maintenance and other expenses

Who approves and oversees expansions, if needed

and...

Who owns what, once the building is paid for!

You see, city and county officials agreed to share the new building. The city police department was located at Shelbyville City Hall, so their move to the Criminal Justice Center in 1994 opened up a lot of additional office space for city government.

It's interesting to note that placing the two law enforcement departments in one building was promoted as a way to save taxpayer money.

At the time, Shelbyville Mayor Dan Theobald was especially insistent about protecting the city's investment in the new jail. In the May 30, 1991 edition of The Shelbyville News, Theobald said:

"The city taxpayers will be paying for the police department and we need to make sure the city has ownership at the end."

Wow! Sounds like the city's $5 million contribution during the past 15 years has purchased nearly 37 percent ownership in the Criminal Justice Center!

Maybe Mayor Furgeson should forget about negotiating with the church and begin negotiations with county officials.





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