County makes plans for jail tax vote

The current Camp Verde jail has 600 beds. The new jail would house 300 more and be open around 2019. VVN/Bill Helm

The current Camp Verde jail has 600 beds. The new jail would house 300 more and be open around 2019. VVN/Bill Helm

PRESCOTT - Yavapai County officials have laid out an action plan they hope will convince voters to double the Yavapai County Jail District quarter-cent sales tax.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors reviewed the plan Monday and looked at a website created solely for the Nov. 4 ballot question. The website is scheduled to go public by the end of the week at YavapaiJail.org.

Although the supervisors haven't officially voted to put the question on the ballot, none have voiced opposition so far. They have to vote by July 21.

"It's not a question of whether we want one or not," Supervisor Chip Davis said Monday. "It's a question of how we want to pay for it."

They are talking about doubling the quarter-cent jail district sales tax and charging the half-cent tax for 20 years. Without it, county officials warn the construction of a $26 million jail will require massive general fund cuts because state law limits property tax increases to minimal levels.

County visitors pay about one-third of the sales tax, County Administrator Phil Bourdon estimated. Voters approved the current quarter-cent sales tax in 1999 in exchange for a 10-cent drop in the county's property tax. The county completed the Camp Verde jail for $17 million in 2003.

Shortly after voters rejected a Yavapai County Jail District sales tax increase in November 2008, the county closed its Prescott jail to slash costs.

Various county departments have instituted programs to reduce jail populations and the recession temporarily lowered the criminal population, officials said, but the existing 600-bed jail in Camp Verde is basically full now (except for the maximum security section). County officials want to build a new 300-bed jail southeast of the intersection of Prescott Lakes Parkway and Highway 89 Prescott.

Sheriff Scott Mascher said he's getting a lot of questions about why the county can't just reopen its old jail on Gurley Street in downtown Prescott.

That's not a good option, Mascher said. It could house only about 130 beds and its design is so outdated and inefficient that he estimates he could staff a new 300-bed jail with only 15 percent more people than it would take to staff the old Prescott jail.

Instead of crisis management, the construction of a new jail would provide space for the next 20-40 years, he said.

Action plan

The plan of action says the county will develop a fact sheet, PowerPoint presentation for community meetings, brochure and website well before the required publicity pamphlet.

County officials already have scheduled Power Point presentations at the Prescott Valley Town Council meeting June 5, Prescott City Council meeting June 10 and Cottonwood City Council meeting Aug. 5.

They are open to giving presentations to non-governmental groups as well, and already have scheduled presentations to the Central Arizona Partnership June 10, Citizens Tax Committee June 11, and Big Park Regional Coordinating Council Sept. 11.

Assistant County Administrator Jack Fields gave the supervisors a preview of the website Monday.

"This is designed to give as much information to the public as we can give," Fields said.

It features a slideshow tour of jails, a definition of a jail district, an "events and news" section, a U.S. Department of Justice video, a list of frequently asked questions, and a way for the public to register comments and ask questions. Everything also can be translated into Spanish.

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