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TEXARKANA, Ark. — The financial decision for supporting part of Miller County's jail expansion has passed to the voters.

In a 10 to 1 vote during its Monday evening meeting, the county's Quorum Court approved setting Feb. 8 for holding special sales tax election.

The plan calls for spending about $7 million to add an additional 144 beds to the county's current 285-bed Correctional Center.

About $3.7 million of $4.2 million the county received earlier this year in COVID-19 American Rescue Fund Act money will take care of the expansion's first phase. This phase will install about 48 of the 60 beds needed

Voters will decide on the second phase, aimed at completing the jail's 144-bed addition. The election itself will cost about $19,000, but if voters approve the sales tax, as much as $1.6 million annually could be generated to expand the jail to collectively house about 500 beds total.

Besides a general need for more inmate jail space, the need for more room is further compounded by lingering social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19, and because county detention centers are required to separate prisoners by inmate classification, such high risk, moderate risk and low risk, when it comes to escape attempts and violence.

Miller County Chief Deputy Mark Lewis said the jail is currently having to hold upwards of 320 to 340 inmates in its current 285-inmate capacity correctional center. "Even without the COVID issue, we are now completely out of of space and it's creating a hardship," Lewis said. Plans are for county officials to explain the expansion's need through a series of public meetings between now and February. Even though a quarter-cent sales tax has been considered, an official sales tax rate still has yet to be agreed upon.

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