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THE REFERENDUM FOR JAIL TAX

Citrus County plans to build a new jail, and voters are being asked to approve a temporary 1-cent increase in the sales tax to pay for it. The existing 77-bed jail in downtown Inverness was overcrowded the day it opened in 1987 after an expansion. The move to build a new jail crawled along until October 1989, when Circuit Judge William Edwards put the county under court order to remedy the situation.

The County Commission's immediate response was to surround the county auditorium at the fairgrounds with barbed wire, fence it and turn it into a temporary 100-bed jail _ the "jailatorium."

Edwards lifted the court order, but the commission decided to continue with plans for a new jail because the auditorium was full. And as the county population grows, crime is expected to increase.

A 400-bed jail, to be built off County Road 491 in Lecanto, could cost as much as $9-million, according to a consultant's estimate. A 300-bed jail would be $1-million cheaper, according to a proposal.

In any case, it's big bucks for a county that already must contend with rising taxes and increasing demands on services. The commissioners unanimously support paying for the jail with a sales tax increase because it would raise a lot of money quickly, an estimated $5-million a year.

With a 1-cent sales tax increase, the jail could be paid off in less than three years, county officials say. If the county must turn to property taxes to pay for the jail, the debt would last 10 to 15 years, they say.

_ KEN MORITSUGU

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