The Connectivity of Crime

editorialMichael Todd Walker failed to show up February 4 for his hearing before 276 Judicial District Judge Robert Rolston.

Walker was set to have his case adjudicated. He was accused of violating a protective order and bond. He had violated the order more than two times in the past.

Rolston, of course, issued a warrant for Walker’s arrest and ordered that Walker be held without bail.

With 137 unserved felony warrants in Marion County, Walker’s chances of being picked up and held may be less than we would hope.

Two prime factors — jail capacity and unpaid property taxes — do not appear on the surface connected, but do contribute to this county’s endemic lawlessness.

The Marion County Jail is too small. Each month the Jimplecute asks for a report from the Sheriff’s Department on the number of offenders and the number of felony and misdemeanor warrants that have not been served. We routinely report these numbers to you, showing the jail remains near capacity and the warrants continue to be unserved.

Marion County Commissioners have an agenda item at each of their regular meetings concerning the “Jail Project.” Rarely has there been any traction or forward motion on this issue in the recent past. MCSO did pass its most recent jail inspection by the state, but that inspection does not consider the number of felons walking the streets because officers have no room in the jail.

The county could house offenders in another county, and some are kept in Harrison County, but at $40 per day, that can get expensive.

In today’s Jimplecute, you can read about $9 million in property taxes that remained unpaid after the January 31 deadline. Granted, almost half of that amount will be paid within a few days or weeks, but about $5 million is still on the books dating back to 1999.

About $2.5 million is owed to Marion County. That could make a nice down payment on a new jail or pave some county roads. There is also a connection to crime in this area.

One of the larger delinquent taxpayers is a Mr. or Ms. Unknown. Neither the Marion Central Appraisal District or the county’s Tax Assessor and Collector’s Office know who owns the property and owes the taxes. 

You remember the case of Daniel Pierce who gained fame as the man who chained dogs to a parked school bus back in 2018. For a period of time, he squatted in an abandoned house in the Pine Harbor development on Lake O’ the Pines. Squatters and abandoned structures were also an issue in Island View.

While Marion County continues to tolerate abandoned structures, criminals will flock here to hide from the law and society. The resulting drug use and crime is only to be expected when you do not have room in the jail to house these scofflaws.

The answer begins with collecting the property taxes due on a property or seizing the property. Once the property is owned by the county, local fire departments can be encouraged to have a “controlled burn” to remove the eyesore before the property is auctioned.

No one suggests that finding Mr. or Ms. Unknown or chasing down the heir responsible for the taxes on Grandma’s farm is easy. Marion County commissioners must ensure adequate resources are being deployed to attack the problem. Jefferson Mayor Charles “Bubba” Haggard has pushed to bring in outside help to collect fines owed to the city. The county already has support from its law firm, but more help could be welcome. The addition of another clerk in the tax office might also reap considerable reward. It is obvious that business as usual is not good enough.

All of us bear a share of this burden. We can remind the court that better roads and less crime can only come with better property tax collections. If the court does act to boost collections, we need to support that decision.

Until Marion County gets on top of the unpaid property tax problem and removes the squatter habitat, the derisive slam, “Crime Harbor,” applies to all of us.

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