Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Commission wants input on jail funding plan

Public hearing tentatively set for Aug. 29

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission is considering a public hearing to find out how citizens feel about a half-percent sales tax increase to fund a new county jail and law enforcement complex.

"The sheriff has a recommendation for us, and we'll be considering it, but we want to hear public comments," Commission Chair Sarah Michael said Wednesday.

Michael said a public hearing is being considered for Tuesday, Aug. 29. An announcement will be made later this week.

Up for consideration is a proposal presented last week to the commissioners by Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, who suggested that a one-half percent local option sales tax levy could raise the estimated $10 million needed for a new law enforcement complex. Femling met with commissioners on Tuesday and Thursday last week to discuss the issue.

Femling said that according to estimates from the Idaho State Tax Commission, a half-percent sales tax increase could raise between $20 million and $24 million over the next 10 years. Femling suggested that half the money be used to fund the proposed law enforcement complex and half be used for property tax relief.

The proposed new law enforcement complex would be built in Hailey on property the county owns at the Airport West light-industrial park. The complex would house the sheriff's office, a jail to accommodate 85 inmates and a new communications center for Blaine County, Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley law enforcement and emergency services agencies.

If the commissioners approve Femling's proposal, the issue could be presented to county voters as early as the November general election. A two-thirds majority is required for passage.

County officials have been looking for a new funding plan since early July, 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.

Michael said the commissioners intend to make a decision by the end of August. If the proposal is approved, that would provide enough time to complete the necessary paperwork and legal requirements to get the issue on the November election ballot.

Femling said Monday that a delay in putting the issue to the public would increase both election costs and the price tag on the proposed law enforcement complex.

"I just want to go on this and let the people decide," Femling said.

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