Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Vote for Ballot Question 5 on Public Safety

Guest opinion by Dennis Wright and Sarah Michael

Dennis Wright and Sarah Michael are Blaine County Commissioners

The Blaine County Board of Commissioners is seeking voter approval to use reserves and other revenues to pay for a new public safety facility.

On Nov. 2, the issue will be addressed by Advisory Ballot Question #5.

The existing jail, sheriff?s office and dispatch center were built in 1972 when the county had 5,000 residents. In 1990, on behalf of two inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued the county over the poor condition of the jail. The court found that the jail was overcrowded, had inadequate recreation and visitation facilities and poor food preparation.

To improve those conditions, the number of jail beds was reduced from 32 to 24, and the county agreed to work hard to build a new facility. The voters were asked to bond for a new jail in the mid-1990s but approval fell just short of the 66.66 percent required.

Now, in 2004, Blaine County has 22,000 citizens, and the need to replace the facility is more critical than ever. The jail is overcrowded, the roof leaks over the dispatch center, the sheriff?s patrol has to share desks to write reports and the Idaho State Jail Standards Committee, in April 2004, stated that the jail, even though well-run, did not meet six Idaho jail standards.

Being frugal has enabled Blaine County to pay for our new annex building without asking for a bond levy, and we want to take this approach to pay for a new jail, sheriff?s office and consolidated dispatch center. The county plans to use various surplus revenues, not just property taxes, to make the annual payments. If the county asked for a bond levy, then property tax payers would shoulder the entire cost.

Some have asked whether we would need to bring in ?rent-paying? out-of-county prisoners in order to make the lease purchase payments. The answer is no. The new jail is not designed to make money.

Before the county is sued again over conditions in the jail, your support is needed. The proposed new facility will meet the needs of the county for the next 20 years. It will include 64 beds, 15 work-release beds, juvenile holding cells, administrative offices, patrol offices, a dispatch center, secure storage space, and shared meetings and conference rooms. The projected cost is between $8 million and $9.5 million. Again, no bonds are necessary to finance the project.

The cost of building a new facility is only going to get higher. In 1990, the cost was estimated to be $4.6 million; in 1995, it rose to $6.9 million. Now it?s over $8 million. We hope you will support Ballot Question #5 so we can move forward and build a needed public safety center.

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