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Insist on a better plan for the jail

I attended the City Council meeting on No. 19 and watched the Talent council meeting on Nov. 20, and here’s what I learned.

The Ashland council will vote Dec. 3 on a resolution committing Ashland residents to be part of a new jail taxing district if the tax passes county-wide in May — even if a majority of Ashland residents were to vote no.

The current county tax rate is $2 per $1,000. The new jail tax would add more than 87 cents per $1,000 — an increase of more than 40 percent.

Jackson County Commissioners Rick Dyer, Colleen Roberts and Bob Strosser are proposing the tax for a new jail with 896-bed capacity, compared with 315 now.

At the Talent council meeting, county officials admitted that they didn’t do any feasibility study of alternatives other counties have implemented to reduce the number of people jailed in the first place, reduce repeat offenses, save money, and provide better prevention, diversion, crisis assistance, and treatment.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said the proposed tax increase is structured so the money can only be used for the jail and what happens inside it. He admitted that the county could have structured a tax increase for both the jail and alternative services but chose not to.

Every resident who spoke Nov. 19 asked the Ashland council to vote down the county’s current proposal and instead seek a plan that includes proven ways to keep people out of jail and address mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. We said, for example, that the county should create a round-the-clock crisis center where people could be taken who need assistance and treatment but don’t belong in jail. We also asked for crisis assistance teams (a deputy and a mental health professional) that respond to calls that don’t need to result in jailing.

Oddly, Ashland council members who support the current jail tax proposal said that between now and Dec. 3 they plan to seek assurances from the county that it will provide such services. It’s obvious that a better plan can’t and won’t be thrown together before Dec. 3, even if the county wanted to.

If our council votes down the current proposal on Dec. 3, Ashland residents would not be part of the new jail tax district. Because Ashland is such an important part of the county tax base, that would mean that the current county proposal would not be viable.

That, in turn, would mean that the county would have to take the next few months to develop a better proposal.

The power is in the Ashland council’s hands. They should vote “no” on Dec. 3 so we can get a better, more cost-effective plan. If you agree, please let them know.

Pauline Black lives in Ashland.