Recent poll shows low voter support for proposed jail in Macomb County

By: Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published July 19, 2019

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MACOMB COUNTY — Macomb County voters oppose a proposal to raise property taxes to fund a $371 million new jail by more than a 2-to-1 margin, according to a poll initiated by the Macomb County Board of Commissioners.

The poll was conducted July 5-8 by California-based Probolsky Research and was paid for by Macomb County to measure voter willingness to support a proposal to increase property taxes by nearly 1 mill to build and operate a new county jail.

According to the results, the jail proposal was opposed by 60% of likely voters and supported by 25%, while 15% were undecided.

Macomb County leaders recently presented plans for a new $371 million jail to be constructed on the current county jail property in Mount Clemens. The 1,518-bed facility would replace the existing complex.

The poll results released on July 10 state that Probolsky Research conducted a live-interviewer telephone survey and online survey “among likely November 2019 voters in Macomb County.” A total of 400 voters — 265 by telephone and 135 online — were surveyed.

“A survey of this size yields a margin of error of +/-5 percent, with a confidence level of 95 percent,” the poll results read.

Interviews were conducted with respondents on both landline and mobile phones and were offered in English and Spanish. For the online survey phase, Probolsky Research pollsters invited participation via email. Security measures precluded individuals from completing the survey more than once and allowed only the designated voter to complete the survey. Online respondents were able to use a computer, tablet or smartphone to participate.

“Our sample was developed from the voter files compiled by the county of Macomb clerk/register of deeds and updated with information from consumer databases,” the poll results read. “Probolsky Research applies a stratified random sampling methodology to ensure that the demographic proportions of survey respondents match the demographic composition of likely November 2019 voters.”

Macomb County paid $7,700 for the poll.

The results did not surprise Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-Macomb Township.

“The jail proposal is way too expensive,” Drolet said in a press release. “Asking citizens to raise taxes on their homes for 20 years to build a palatial new jail is absurd. Especially when citizens endure crumbling roads and other pressing needs. I hope this poll is educational for county officials. It’s a waste of everybody’s time to place this proposal on a ballot. Instead, county officials should accept reality and pay down existing county debts so jail needs can be financed without hiking taxes. That may mean postponing jail renovations for a few years, but it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

The poll also asked respondents to identify the top issue facing Macomb County. Roads and infrastructure were identified as the top issue by 58.5% of poll respondents. Taxes were second, with 10.8% of respondents naming it as the top issue. Crime, education, water quality, employment/the economy and “other” all were identified as the top issue by fewer than 10% of those polled.

Built in 1954, the Macomb County Jail, located on Elizabeth Road, currently has a capacity of 1,238 beds. The jail houses pretrial detainees, as well as prisoners sentenced to one year or less. Many of the programs at the jail assist in providing counseling services and life skills aimed at reducing recidivism.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said a new jail is needed to better address not only infrastructure issues, but growing community health issues such as mental health, and substance and alcohol abuse. The manner in which the jail is set up now to regularly monitor inmates is called “indirect supervision,” he explained.

Indirect supervision is when officers have to come by once an hour and check on inmates.

Direct supervision, a feature of the new jail, is when correctional officers are integrated with inmates.

Wickersham said the current facility lacks the “right bed for the right inmate.” For the proposed new jail, he said there’s a focus on central intake assessment, which would help determine who needs to be in jail, and a state-of-the-art mental health medical facility.

“Another aspect is moving to more direct supervision,” he said. “The staff is right in with the inmates and supervising behavior. It’s been going on for 25 years around the country.”   

The funding mechanism recommended is a 20-year, 0.98-mill county tax: 0.78 mill would fund the $371 million proposed new jail, and 0.2 mill would support the operation and personnel costs associated with it. For a home worth $150,000, 0.98 mill would cost $73.50 per year for just over two decades.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said it would be a better idea to have the proposal on the August 2020 ballot, as opposed to this year.

“There’s not a lot of people out there — whether it’s the Board of Commissioners, people in the field, judges — that don’t come to the understanding that there needs to be a very unique fix,” Hackel said earlier this month.

The Macomb County Board of Commissioners was slated to consider placing the jail tax proposal on an upcoming election ballot at its July 18 meeting. Ballot language must be approved by Aug. 13 for the Nov. 5 general election.