Local GovernmentNewsPolitics

Muskegon Heights City Council Still Undecided On County Jail Idea

Andrew Trzaska | October 8, 2012

With more information presented by its county commissioner, the city council of Muskegon Heights opted to continue tabling a resolution of supporting the possibility of building a new county jail within the city limits of Muskegon Heights.

The resolution in question would not necessarily bring a jail to the city, but aims to send a sign to those exploring possibilities for a new jail that Muskegon Heights would be supportive of locating it within its city limits.

County Commissioner Rillastine Wilkins attended the council’s service meeting ahead of its full council meeting on Monday.  She addressed some of the questions various council members asked amongst themselves over the past several weeks.

On a question from councilman Willie Watson, Wilkins noted that the old jail would not likely be torn down if the new jail were built.

However, the new jail appears not to be built, as questions of transportation carried a large part of Monday’s discussion.  Mayor Pro Tem Kimberly Sims, who attended previous meetings on planning for the next stage of jail development, said that the distance from the courthouse to the Broadway location could be a detriment. She noted that a portion of the judges who currently preside at the Kobza Hall of Justice downtown do not see the cost of transporting prisoners from Muskegon Heights to Terrace Street as a good use of funds.

Wilkins spoke on Monday to the economic impact the jail would provide.  It is unclear what rate the county would pay property taxes to the city, but Wilkins did indicate that the jail’s employees would pay income taxes to the city.

As for economic development surrounding the physical building, council members appeared skeptical of Wilkins’ claim that many attorneys and bail bondsmen would relocate from downtown to the Broadway site.

Councilman Keith Guy believed that the courthouse, not the jail, is likely the real focus of attorneys; the jail’s location is more of a sweetener to locate in the governmental area of downtown Muskegon.

“The courts are the reason for [their current] location,” said Guy. “We’re kind of speculating there because it is not the traditional kind of one-stop shop anymore.”

Councilman Watson, who at previous meetings appeared on the fence about supporting the possibility of the jail, believed that in fact certain other unused properties around that location could see development.

Regarding crime, Wilkins noted “the crime rate will not go up because the jail is here.”

Public comments on the jail trended toward opposition of the proposal, citing image issues the city may have to fight with the property in the city, as well how it may stunt rezoning and redevelopment of the city’s vacant properties.

Wilkins’ comments trended toward being supportive of the proposal.

“It’s like I couldn’t get anyone [on the county level] to consider Muskegon Heights,” said Wilkins.

The next opportunity for the city to pass the resolution would be October 22 at the next full council meeting.

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