Wednesday, August 16, 2006

County considers sales tax to fund new jail

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission is kicking around a proposal to fund a new jail with a one-half percent sales tax.

The proposal was presented to county commissioners on Tuesday by Sheriff Walt Femling, who suggested that half the money raised could be used for a new public safety facility and the other half for property tax relief.

Tom Bowman, commission vice chairman, said the half-percent sales tax should raise at least $20 million over the next 10 years. That would mean $10 million for a new public safety facility, which is close to construction estimates made last year.

The proposed public safety facility would include a new jail, a sheriff's office and countywide communications center for law enforcement and emergency services.

County authorities have been looking for a new funding plan since early last month, when 5th District Court Judge Barry Wood ruled a plan illegal that would have allowed the county to use surplus funds to build the facility.

"There's no question we need a new jail," Bowman said. "It's the funding mechanism that's in question. But we'll keep working on it until we get it."

Bowman said he still has some concerns about Femling's proposal, but is "leaning toward this" because it would tap into tourist dollars and wouldn't put the burden solely on property owners.

The proposal would need two-thirds approval from the voters, and could be on the ballot as early as November.

"We have to make a decision by the first of September so we can get all the paperwork in," Bowman said.

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