University alum Phil Caroll, along with two other protesters, assembled outside of the County Administrative Building yesterday to speak out against Proposal A — a millage on the Feb. 22 ballot that would go toward funding the construction of a larger penitentiary system in the Washtenaw County area.
If approved, taxpayers would pay an additional 75 cents per $1,000 in property tax.
After the protest, member of the “No Giant Jail Committee” Charles Ream and Washtenaw County resident Ramaro Srinivasa presented five-minute speeches expressing concern about Proposal A to the Ways and Means Committee of Washtenaw County — a committee of the House of Representatives that makes recommendations on all bills to raise revenue.
Both speakers believed the proposal would further strain the pockets of taxpayers when taxes are already high.
Ream said the proposal was on the “wish list” of the Criminal Justice Collaborative Council, a group of law enforcement professionals and country officials. In his speech, Ream said these “wishes” — a new jail and court building in Washtenaw County — would cost $48 million, making it an unnecessary burden for taxpayers.
To put this figure in perspective, Ream said Jackson County won a similar proposal to allocate $12 million to a penitentiary facility. Because Washtenaw County has twice as many people, he said $24 million would be a more appropriate figure, rather than $48 million.
In contrast, Ann Arbor Councilwoman Jean Carlberg (D-3rd Ward) said the budget would be readjusted every year, meaning that depending on the demand for services, in future years the millage could be decreased.
Calberg also said the money raised by the millage would go toward capital costs, operations and different services over a thirty-year period. This includes funding programs that would serve the mentally ill, as well as diverting others from jail. The money will also be allocated to police training for interacting with mentally unstable people during arrests, as well as to increase the personnel who assess mental illnesses and decide the appropriate treatment.
She added that the proposal would greatly benefit the community by adding new programs, increasing the effectiveness of the current jail facility, and solve the overcrowding issue that is now prevalent in the Washtenaw County penitentiary system.
Ream cited statistics that contradicted this statement when he said in his speech the total number of crimes committed in the Ann Arbor area have dropped nineteen percent and the number of arrests has dropped twenty-six percent in the last seven years.
Another point of contention between the protestors and the council was that an expanded jail would make room for more people and, therefore, more marijuana users would be sentenced.
Ream said he was also concerned that a larger jail would inevitably accommodate marijuana users. He said this cause is very dear to him because he campaigned heavily to pass the medical marijuana proposal.
“I don’t think our voters want to pay for piss tests for pot. Would you rather have that or voters sniffing glue or doing crack? I think we would rather have people smoking pot,” Ream said while protesting on the street before his speech.
Calberg, however, said the protesters have no reason to be worried about the increase in arrests of marijuana users.
“ (‘No Giant Jail Committee’) believe the police are for the most part picking up people that are using marijuana. However, the police have made it clear that they have been focusing on more serious crimes … It has not been their main target in the past and will not be in the near future,” Calberg said.
Despite his grievances, Ream said that if the University and the community contributed to a revised draft of the millage proposal, he would be in favor of a similar proposal appearing on the ballot in three to six months since it would come from the community. This sentiment was reflected by a flier that was being distributed by the protesters, which said “Vote No on Proposal A! Help Create Plan B!”
Srinivasa said he was also mystified by how the generated revenue would be spent and was concerned that the money could be mismanaged. “The average amount of money spent on prisoners is $26,500. Yet, in 2005, 332 beds ended up costing (approximately) $14 million. That is approximately $42,000 per person. This is already 60 percent higher than the average cost in Michigan,” Srinivasa said.
Srinivasa was also upset about how county funds were allocated to pay for a focus group.
“I hope (the proposal) won’t pass. The county ran a focus group that showed it had a possibility of winning. They cannot use taxpayer money to influence elections,” Srinivasa said.
To combat the approval of the passage, Srinivasa said he plans to help other concerned citizens distribute fliers, create signs and possibly a website to raise awareness on the issues revolving around the proposal.