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Jail plans move ahead

Jackson Country officials are moving ahead with plans for a new jail, and not a moment too soon.

County commissioners last week approved spending $6.5 million to purchase 47 acres of land near the Sheriff’s Office headquarters on Highway 62 that would be an ideal location for a new jail. The property is zoned heavy industrial, so a jail is a permitted use. All utilities are available. There are no residences nearby, eliminating the likelihood of neighborhood opposition. And the property is mostly vacant, eliminating the cost of demolition.

The county still must convince voters to support the project, but progress is being made on that front, too.

The plan now is to propose a levy next year that would not start until 2020, when existing bonds for library construction expire. Replacing the library levy with the jail levy would mean a net increase to taxpayers of about 60 cents per $1,000, well below the $1.09 figure that drew opposition in a survey earlier this year.

The initial project could be a 700- or 750-bed jail, but with the kitchen and heating systems sized for 1,000 beds because those features couldn’t be remodeled easily. The existing jail has been overcrowded for years, forcing the early release of prisoners on a daily basis. Crime is a major concern for Jackson County residents. Adequate jail space is essential to public safety, but it’s not cheap. We are convinced that a new jail is vital to the county’s future prosperity and livability.