Canyon County

Heated town hall meeting on the Canyon County jail bond brings out critics

Critics of the Canyon County bond request for $187 million to build a new jail were out in force Monday night at a town hall held at the Nampa Public Library. Roughly 50 people attended the meeting, some sporting buttons that read “Vote NO on jail.”

Monday’s town hall was the fourth of six scheduled by the county in an effort to answer questions about the bond request, which is on the May 21 ballot.

The request amounts to an annual cost of $94.43 per $100,000 of taxable property value. The bond, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass, would be on a 20-year repayment plan, with an estimated interest rate of 3.47 percent. It is the fourth time the county has asked for a bond to build a new jail.

A common criticism from those opposed to the bond is a claim that the jail the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office wants to build on U.S. 20/26 — 1,055 beds, 578 more than the current facility has, to serve the county for the next 30 years — is larger than what is necessary. Proponents say that’s needed so that the jail will suit the growing county’s needs for the next three decades.

Many questions Monday night revolved around how quickly the bond will be repaid and focused on how high property taxes in Canyon County already are.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of Canyon County, a group that formed in 2017, were present at the town hall. Notably, Larry Stevenson, a supporter of the group, stood at the front of the room and said he didn’t trust the commission’s past decisions.

“Canyon County taxpayers are getting fed up with how property taxes are being managed,” Stevenson told the room.

He argued that county commissioners should have been saving for a new jail years ago.

Concerned Citizens of Canyon County is chaired by Ron Harriman, who says having more than 1,000 beds far exceeds what’s necessary.

It “is much too large for this population,” Harriman said. He indicated in a phone interview with the Statesman on Monday that a jail no larger than about 702 beds, for the next 12 years, would appropriately serve the county’s needs.

The Sheriff’s Office and elected officials say they might not fill the jail to capacity immediately, but argue that space is needed. Capt. Daren Ward said Monday that about 700 people currently on pretrial release should be in custody, but there isn’t room to put them in jail. He noted that the proposed jail is based off a study the county paid for from the DLR Group.

Harriman, a Nampa resident, said he proposes creating a master plan for a county campus where the current jail and courthouse are, to be used by future commissioners. He also wants to form an advisory commission, similar to a planning and zoning commission, with six-year terms to advise county commissioners.

Harriman argued that the county commission has not taken into consideration how much the sheriff’s operations budget would need to increase in order to operate a jail that’s twice the size of the existing Caldwell facility.

Canyon County Lt. Dale Stafford said during the town hall meeting that the existing staff could run a jail with 1,055 beds. He said the current Dale G. Haile Detention Center is so inefficient that staff is not appropriately used.

Larry Olmsted, also a member of the Concerned Citizens of Canyon County, said he does not oppose a new jail, but he does have a problem with a $187 million price tag.

“We recognize a need for a new jail,” he said. “We need one. We want the jail to be adequate and want the deputies to be safe.”

Olmsted said the citizens committee has proposed alternatives, such as converting the 90-bed juvenile facility into an adult facility for women and building a new juvenile facility. He argued that such an option, along with new secure trailers that are being installed at the end of the summer, would provide adequate space for female inmates. Canyon County now routinely runs out of room for women and has to house them in other counties.

Olmsted said the county could pass a resolution to establish a “capital construction financing fund” with a budget solely for the construction of a jail. This potential fund could pull from sources such as impact fees, tax incentives and funds from the Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency, he said. All of those ideas would need approval from county commissioners.

Olmsted said working with the county commission has been frustrating.

“The only time they involved the public was when they knew what they wanted to do,” Olmsted said. “There was no input before.”

Olmsted said he is more hopeful since Canyon County Commissioner Leslie Van Beek has taken office. She is the only commissioner who opposed to the $187 million bond. None of the commissioners were at the Monday town hall, a move that was met with disapproval from those in attendance.

Finally, Olmsted proposed building a different kind of jail. He said it would be a pod-by-pod facility that could be paid for as construction was necessary.

Nampa City Councilman Victor Rodriguez said he opposes the new jail because of the facility’s size, location and cost. A retired police officer, Rodriguez noted that the proposed location might be only 3 miles from the Caldwell courthouse, but it’s about 15 miles for Nampa police.

He said he worries about the unanticipated costs of maintaining a building as large as the one the county is proposing. He also has concerns that if local businesses have to pay more in property taxes, the prices of their products will increase, indirectly impacting consumers, who are also taxpayers.

“Public safety is a concern, by all means,” Rodriguez said. “But why should the community suffer the consequences of mismanagement by the sheriff and the commissioners for the comfort of inmates?”

He also said that “locking (inmates) up and throwing away the key doesn’t work.”

Two more town hall meetings will be held regarding the jail bond election this week at the following locations:

  • 7 p.m. Tuesday, at the Wilder Rural Fire Protection District, 601 Patriot Way, Wilder
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the Canyon County Administration Building, 111 N. 11th Ave., Caldwell
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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.