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Ashland council postpones decision on new jail proposal

Ashland City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to postpone a decision on whether to allow Ashland residents to vote on a proposal to create a Law Enforcement Service District and build a new jail that would be more than twice the size of the existing facility.

Council members said they want to know more about the county’s role in mental health services and directed staff to schedule a meeting with one of the Jackson County commissioners, one to three Ashland City Council members, and Sheriff Nate Sickler, as well as other involved parties to discuss the proposal before deciding. The proposed meeting would not be public, so a quorum of council members or commissioners would not be present, assistant city administrator Adam Hanks said. The next vote is expected to be held Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The cost to build the proposed new 800-bed jail was estimated at $170.3 million, according to Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

Jordan and Sickler had previously warned that costs for construction, materials, architectural work and engineering would continue to rise at a rate of roughly 5% annually if the decision is pushed into the future.

The current 315-bed jail has inmates who are regularly released due to overcrowding.

Without the participation of Ashland, the measure would be too expensive for the remaining residents in the county to shoulder alone, county officials have said.

With everyone participating, the cost would be 84 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $168 per year for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000. If Talent City Council refuses to let the issue go before its voters, the tax would be 87 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on everyone else in the county. Talent was scheduled to consider the jail proposal Wednesday night.

Because Ashland property values are so high, said Ashland City Council member Julie Akins, Ashland property owners would pay significantly more than others in the valley if the jail service district were to be approved by voters.

“This doesn’t take into account the services that we’re interested in, and this is too expensive for the residents of Ashland,” Akins said. “The property taxes would be up to double what people would pay in other parts of the county, and that’s more than our share.”

Several residents asked the council to thoroughly think the matter through, because Ashland property taxes and utility costs continue to increase significantly each year, and they are worried about the affordability of living in the town.

Sickler said all information must be before the county commissioners by Jan. 2, or the decision will be delayed for at least another six months and cost an additional $4.3 million.

“Ashland shouldn’t be the community that blocks this,” Slattery said.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.