Jefferson County voters should support the new five-year jail operating levy on the November ballot. It does mean an increase in taxes, but the alternative would be to cut jail staff and possibly matrix out inmates before they complete their sentences.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins is asking voters to support a temporary levy of $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That is an increase of 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over the current levy of $1.24 per $1,000. On a $200,000 home, the increase would be $92 a year.

The levy would raise about $3 million a year over the next five years, bringing in an estimated total of $14.8 million. The jail has also been supported by the county’s general fund by about $400,000 a year, Adkins said.

The jail effectively houses 140-150 inmates, though it has 160 beds. That’s because some inmates need to be separated from others. On Monday, the jail held 103 inmates — 70 were from Jefferson County and 29 were held for Crook County. There are usually three to four employees staffing the jail 24 hours a day.

For years, the jail has had a contract with Crook County for about $700,000 a year to house 25-30 Crook County inmates. Crook County’s new jail will open in the spring, and when it does, that funding will go away. Adkins can’t just cut staff easily, because he needs a certain level of staffing to maintain safety for his deputies and the inmates. So part of the reason for the increase in the levy is to replace that Crook County contract. He is also facing increasing expenses generally — state retirement benefits or PERS, insurance, inmate medical costs, inflation and so on. The jail has also been drawing down its contingency fund to maintain the current staffing.

Adkins has sought other contracts similar to the arrangement with Crook County. He has not found any interest. Some people have suggested that the jail partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said that would not work, because it would cost so much to bring up the jail to federal standards.

If the levy does not pass in November, Adkins says he will try again in May. If it doesn’t pass then, he will likely be compelled to cut jail staff by about half. The jail may only be able to house about 25 inmates at that point, meaning inmates determined to be less of a threat to the community would be released early or not serve jail time.

Support the funding for the Jefferson County jail. Vote yes on the levy.

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