Guest Opinions

Addition is best option for Canyon County jail expansion

After three failed attempts to bond for (raise property taxes) a new off-campus jail, it became clear the taxpayers of Canyon County did not want the effects of a $50 million jail on the property tax rolls.

The first jail bond effort (2007) was on Nampa/Caldwell Boulevard and Homedale Road. I had just taken office as commissioner that January. It was voted upon five months later in May and failed to get the super-majority required for approval, only failing by a few percent. It was the general consensus that it failed because of the location, so we enlisted a committee of local VIPs to help choose another site. They eventually decided on a location near the Notus freeway exit as their preferred site and ran a second bond in 2009, which also failed, this time by 8 percent. A third effort led by Steve White (newly elected Commissioner Pam White’s husband) and a citizen committee was attempted in 2010, but it failed worse than the first two.

I finally got the message from the voters: “Do not bond for more property taxes to solve our jail problems.” So I began work on a different approach to solving county jail needs after the Board of County Commissioners was instructed by our county controller, Zach Wagoner, that we had $13 to $14 million more in fund balance (tax dollars saved) than we should, and that if we spent that money, the county would be in a more balanced financial position.

So for the past two years, Commissioner Hanson and I have been working on a plan to build a new addition to the existing Canyon County Jail that would house 290 prisoners and cost $14.5 million. The approximately $3 million needed to operate this new jail would raise property taxes roughly $20/year on a home worth $100,000.

This design eliminates the loading of prisoners in vehicles and transporting them to court. It also solves nursing and laundry issues, the need to house prisoners out of county, and utilizes existing administration offices, because while the Dale Hale jail is of poor design, it is still structurally sound. Moreover, the new addition will have us better prepared for the ongoing Justice Reinvestment Act being pushed through the state Legislature. The closing of the old jail annex (built in 1930s) will help provide employees to staff the new jail addition. The old jail annex will be decommissioned and used as needed storage space for the sheriff and clerk of the court.

No matter how you slice it, both options — either a new $50 million-plus jail built with bond money or an expansion built with money already saved — will still raise taxes to pay for operation and staffing. I believe using already saved tax dollars now is a much better choice for all taxpayers, many of whom are on a fixed income, than gambling on “big increases in property taxes” five or 10 years downstream. More importantly, our county’s residents’ safety is addressed now, not someday.

Steve Rule is Canyon County commissioner, District 1.