Commentary: Renewing, increasing Jail District levy will keep taxes down
Having been privileged to serve Yavapai County as the elected sheriff from 1989 to 2005, I saw many changes. Of utmost importance was the creation of a "Jail District" in 1999 to establish a consumption-based tax at the conservative maximum rate of 1/4 of a cent per dollar and for a maximum period of 20 years. This issue will again be decided by the voters this year to address current and emerging critical needs.
Recapping two decades, I will attempt to be brief. No one likes to spend money on jails or prisons. None of us want to see the worst of the worst roaming our streets, neighborhoods, schools and committing crimes against any of us or our property. I must note that the minor drug offenders are not filling up the jail, as some suggest! Those who are incarcerated the night before on lesser charges are seen by a judge within 24 hours and most usually released.
Those remaining in custody largely represent violent and serious felony crimes or those sentenced and awaiting transfer with "holds" to prison. Remember, all those persons convicted of a serious crime went through a county jail before they went to prison. It is also important to note the Yavapai County Jail also provides jail services to many other agencies, to include the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Police Departments of Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood and Sedona as well as the Arizona Game and Fish, Yavapai Prescott and Yavapai-Apache (Verde), Indian Police Departments and any other agency arresting a person for violation of Arizona state law from anywhere in the county, many of whom must now travel far distances with the closure of the Prescott Jail and take that officer from his assigned area or city/town for sometimes hours.
For years, "we" fought the battle daily of controlling a growing jail population, frequently facing where and how to house 600 or more persons in space to hold 309 persons both in Prescott and the Verde Valley. Remember that individuals in the County Jail, for the most part, have not yet been convicted of a crime and under the eyes of the law are considered innocent thus requiring greater access to the legal system and other services. Negotiating the "Jail Budget" is not a pleasant task for anyone.
In the midst of all this, the Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorney's Office launched a three-year investigation under authority of the "Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act" or CRIPA, which became both time consuming and costly. The Jail District provided needed funds for jail construction, staffing and operation and the CRIPA Investigation ended and was closed. The last thing Yavapai County tax payers needed was a "Federal Jail Monitor" with a check book to your tax dollars over which you and I would have had little to no control.
State law was passed to allow counties to implement a "Jail District." Yavapai County asked for voter approval of a consumption or sales tax of 1/4 cent on the dollar, which was 1/2 the rate allowed and to expire in 20 years. This placed .35 cents of every sales tax dollar burden on tourist and transient population as well as requiring those enterprises in Indian Country who did not pay property tax to share in the cost responsibility and reduced the county property tax rate by a full 10 cents.
It is time for renewal of the Jail District. The 1/4-cent rate is not sufficient to fully fund jail construction, staffing and operation and needs to be increased to the 1/2-cent rate with any surplus applied to property tax relief as proscribed by law. Plans and design processes need to done before it expires.
For certain, we will have to operate a county jail. The consequences of not re-authorizing the Jail District would be devastating. Loss of the sales tax or consumption based revenue of .35 on the dollar and return to being funded entirely from property taxes. Tourists, visitors and transient population not paying. Enterprises in Indian Country not paying for jail services. Substantial increase in property tax. Reduction in various county services. A "NO" vote in November is a "YES" vote to increase your property taxes.
Folks, please join me in voting "YES" to authorize extending the Jail District and increase the levy from 1/4 to 1/2 cent as a sales tax and not as a property tax.
G.C. "Buck" Buchanan is the former sheriff of Yavapai County.