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New jail in cities' hands

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The fate of a proposed new Jackson County Jail will soon be in the hands of city councils across the Rogue Valley.

The county’s 11 incorporated cities will decide whether they want to be included in a new district to help fund jail construction and operating costs. City councils must agree to refer the issue to their voters.

“We’re excited for this opportunity to get the information to the cities and to see if they’re interested in being a part of this project,” said Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler.

The reaction from the city councils needs to be back before mid-June so Jackson County commissioners can decide whether to put the funding proposal on the November ballot for a county-wide vote, he said.

Construction and increased operating costs for a larger jail would be $166 million.

Sickler is proposing the formation of a service district with a maximum property tax rate of almost $0.84 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The district would cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 another $167 annually in property taxes.

That would raise $100 million toward the $166 million cost, with the Jackson County government tapping its reserves to contribute $66 million.

Sickler said all major cities in the county would have to participate for the plan to succeed.

Without the contribution of all residents, the proposed tax rate would have to be higher, hurting the proposal’s chances at the ballot.

“If a larger city like Central Point or Ashland or Medford declined to be a part of the district, that would probably just mean that the project couldn’t move forward because the tax burden to the rest of Jackson County would be too extreme,” Sickler said.

County officials acknowledged the funding proposal will already be a tough sell.

In March 2018, a survey of 329 county voters showed most would balk at the cost of a larger jail.

Inmates are regularly released due to overcrowding at the existing 315-bed jail near downtown Medford.

The proposed new jail along Highway 62 would have 800 beds, although it would likely house 640 to 700 inmates.

Sickler said some inmates have to be kept apart from other inmates because of their behavior, risk level or the crime they are accused of committing. A cell with two bunks, for example, might hold only one person.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said higher property taxes make housing even more unaffordable and could push some people out of their houses.

She is also concerned about spending down the county’s reserves.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said he is sensitive to the issue of increased burdens on taxpayers, but he noted crime also comes with a cost.

The Sheriff’s Office has asked Southern Oregon University to calculate the costs of crime in the community.

Preliminary numbers indicate the average annual cost of crime in Jackson County has been $171.2 million from 2013 through 2017.

That works out to $806 each year for every adult and child in the county, according to the data.

The figures account for costs associated only with the major crimes of murder, rape, robbery, serious assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. Statistics on those crimes are collected across America for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics.

Commissioner Bob Strosser said public hearings that will be held before a public vote will help flush out residents’ thoughts and concerns about the jail proposal.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Preliminary numbers indicate the average annual cost of crime in Jackson County has been $171.2 million from 2013 through 2017. That works out to $806 each year for every adult and child in the county, according to the data.
Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschIn order to build a larger jail, Jackson County cities will need to agree to put a funding measure before their residents.