Ashland votes “NO” 3-2, derails new county jail

ASHLAND, Ore.– It’s back to the drawing board. A new jail proposal which has been in the works by Jackson County for some time was put on the chopping block and ultimately axed after the Ashland City Council voted not to opt-in Tuesday night.

The county has spent months trying to get local cities to buy into the creation of a new jail service district to build and maintain a new jail. According to Sheriff Nathan Sickler, the current one is outdated for a county of this size and it’s been overcrowded for more than 30 years.

However, in order to build the jail, the county would need unanimous approval from city councils. Staff recommendation for the city council recommended councilors approve the resolution to join the decision-making process for a service district. But in a 3-2 vote, the decision went the opposite way and officially ended.

The sixth councilor for Ashland, Julie Akins, was not able to vote on the issue as she was away for work. Over the phone, Akins said she would have voted no to the resolution as well making the final tally 4-2.

Sheriff Sickler said he was disappointed about the outcome but he said he’s not giving up. While the proposal won’t end up on this November’s ballot, he’s going to use that time to engage with the cities and their councils about the project.

“We also have to respect that the elected officials for each jurisdiction are trying to make the best decisions for their cities that they can. You know it is disappointing, a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna continue to move forward.”

Ashland councilors who voted against the decision say they didn’t see enough in the county’s plan for a new jail to support the service district. But it was by no means an easy decision.

Deliberations and discussion lasted for over an hour, according to two councilors NBC5 News spoke with. What seemed to be the biggest concern raised by councilors and their constituents was the mental health and addiction treatment programs in the proposed facility.

Councilor Tonya Graham, who voted against the resolution, said those who spoke up during the public hearing were concerned that the programs in the proposal were not solidified enough. She said she was happy to see the county was taking consideration for those programs seriously but also felt more proactive steps could be taken.

“I want to see a more comprehensive plan that not only invests in the jail which we know needs to be done but also gets upstream of that problem and develops the programs that we can put in place to help out our citizens avoid getting on that track in the first place,” she said.

Councilor Stephen Jensen, who voted for the resolution, said he agreed with the majority that mental health and addiction treatment programs were important but felt it was still necessary for voters to decide.

“Not big high-handed but slightly high-handed for the Ashland City Council to essentially reject the measure and deprive the rest of the citizens in Jackson County to vote on it,” he said.

Both councilors agreed that the jail needs investment and they hope that the county will bring a more comprehensive proposal soon. In the wake of this decision though, the county will have to keep making things work the way it has been for some time.


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