Phoenix, Ashland first to weigh in on permanent solution for county jail

MEDFORD, Ore.– Another step forward for the establishment of a new Jackson County Jail this week as cities are beginning to vote on whether or not they will include themselves in a proposed law enforcement service district. On Monday, Ashland and Phoenix were some of the first to take a look at approving a resolution to join.

The proposed district is currently being called the Jackson County Local Correctional Facility Service District and funding for it would be set up as a permanent property tax, similar to other special districts like White City’s law enforcement. The proposal states the district would have to construct, operate, and maintain the facility for the county with an established tax rate limit for properties being .83 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

This means if a properties taxable value was $200,000, the cost to the property owner would be $167.

However, the cost for taxpayers may go down further as a library bond is set to expire in 2020.

“I believe it’s about 11 – 12 cents per $1,000 so that in effect offsets the .83 cents bringing it down to just a little over .70 cents per $1,000 which, again, every penny counts,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

A total of 11 cities would need to vote yes on incorporating their residents into the district in order for the public to vote on the November ballot. Any one city voting no would derail the entire plan, forcing the county to redraw the district, calculate a new tax rate limit and forego this year’s ballot.

Sheriff Nathan Sickler of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has been on the go lately, speaking with city councils to inform them about the new jail. He says that the total cost of a new jail would be around $166 million with general reserve funds of about $66.5 million from the county helping to pay for part of it. The new jail would also double the size of the old one from a maximum of 340 beds to nearly 800 beds, budgeting for about 700 though, according to Sheriff Sickler.

The sheriff told NBC5 News in an interview that looking at the jail long term, the service district is the most cost-effective plan for the county.

“Between that [$66.5 million] and then $100 million bond to facilitate the rest of the construction, and then the service district would pay, help pay that bond down and the operations of the jail moving forward,” said Sheriff Sickler.

As of Monday, Phoenix’s city council voted to approve the resolution for joining the service district on a 4-3 vote. But the council could defer that decision if it needs more questions answered.

City councilors from the City of Ashland met with Sheriff Sickler on Monday as well to discuss the jail during a work study session. The city could make a final decision during its business meeting on May 7.

Every city, though, will ultimately need to make its decision by May 17, whereafter, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners will reconvene and review the decisions.

” I think most people understand what’s going on and the consequences of not having the capacity,” said Dyer. “I hope they’ll understand this is a very good, potential solution for that.”

Still, each city will have to make its own decision and with Phoenix possibly being one of the first to move forward, this jail will still need a weigh in by all Jackson County voters before its final approval.

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