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5/8/2014 4:03:00 PM
County jail tax hike looms large
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

Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier


PRESCOTT - Yavapai County officials will ask voters in November's general election to double the county's jail district sales tax to a half-cent so the county can build a new Prescott jail.

A majority of the five-man Yavapai County Board of Supervisors voiced strong support for the sales tax increase Monday during a board meeting, although the board has not yet officially voted on the ballot question. Voters have to approve jail district sales tax increases.

Board of Supervisors Chair Rowle Simmons said he wants to vote on the resolution as soon as possible.

"We need to get the word out...and that takes time," he said.

The supervisors sounded convinced the jail is necessary.

"One way or another, we'll be building a new jail," Supervisor Chip Davis said.

But without a sales tax increase, county officials warned 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.

If the county sticks to its existing quarter-cent sales tax, it will have to maximize property taxes and still face a $1.5 million to $2.5 million annual shortfall in the jail budget, Bourdon estimated. And the tax expires in 2020.

The current Camp Verde jail has 600 beds. The new jail would house 300 more and be open around 2019. It would be built on county land near the intersection of Prescott Lakes Parkway and Highway 89, close to the juvenile detention center.

"We are at capacity, and I think the board is making the right decision," Sheriff Scott Mascher said after Monday's meeting.

The supervisors must decide the exact wording of the ballot question by July 21.

They've been discussing asking voters to authorize a 20-year half-cent tax, Bourdon said. That's the maximum jail tax the state authorizes, although there isn't a state limit on the time period.

The current sales tax produces about $7 million of the jail's $15.7 million annual budget. The county also must contribute a "maintenance of effort" amount roughly equal to its pre-district jail costs plus inflation, which added up to about $7 million this year.

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.

By 2008 the county already was struggling to support jail costs, adding an extra $3.8 million from the general fund and then another $3.4 million the following year, Bourdon recounted. The county and its jail population were soaring.

Voters rejected a Yavapai County Jail District sales tax increase in November 2008.

The county closed its Prescott jail in the spring of 2009 to slash costs. It also was facing federal pressure for structural improvements.

But the closure drastically increased the costs for Prescott-area municipalities that suddenly had to drive prisoners 45 miles to Camp Verde.

At least 60 percent of the jail's prisoners come from the Prescott side of the mountain, Mascher said. The county spends nearly $1 million annually just to transport prisoners back and forth to Prescott courts, he said.

Shortly after taking office in June 2011 when Sheriff Steve Waugh quit, Sheriff Mascher reopened a small portion of the Prescott jail for 24/7 booking and transport.

Various county departments have instituted programs to reduce jail populations and the recession temporarily lowered the criminal population, officials said, but the jail is now reaching capacity.

"It looks like we probably exhausted about every innovative idea," Davis said.

Reopening the old Prescott jail is 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.

Mascher is happy with the Camp Verde jail design and would like to use the same one in Prescott. It features 120-bed pods and there's room for at least one more pod. With advances in technology, the Prescott pods could hold 150 prisoners, Mascher estimated. It will cost an estimated $6 million annually to operate.

While the Camp Verde jail technically holds 600 prisoners, it's really more like 500 because the county isn't allowed to put lower-level prisoners in the maximum security pod that has the fewest capacity problems, Mascher said.

Supervisor Tom Thurman said some constituents have asked him why the county can't build a tent city for prisoners like Maricopa County's.

"We truly don't have a population large enough to set up tents," Mascher said. Maricopa has about 3,000 minimum-security inmates in its tents, he said. The staff costs aren't less, he said, and Maricopa often gets sued over the conditions, Thurman said.



Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder


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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Article comment by: Mata Usi

We don't need another jail in this County especially if the current business model is not functional. They need to figure out ways to reduce the tax burden for the hard working people in this county, not increase it.

If we didn't have a County Attorney who was obsessed with enforcing archaic laws, half of the current beds would be empty.Lets use available resources to figure out how to keep people out of the revolving door that is the County Jail.


Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Article comment by: Genuine Information

If the average Verde Valley resident knew even a fraction of the abuses that happen in the jail they'd surround the place with pitchforks and torches.

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Article comment by: C L girard

what the heck! we don't need a new jail. stop putting people in jail for pot. your going to build it any way, even if its voted down . that's so wrong!

Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2014
Article comment by: Legalize Cannabis

Across the board for all legal adults and you won't need new citizen interment camps, oh I am sorry . . . jails.

But unfortunately, the police will also have to give up their addiction to those Federal and State Marijuana Grants, unlawful searches and seizures, no knock warrants with SWAT busting in, killing innocent people and dogs . . . etc.

What will Arizona do without it's fascist police state?

Do we have to keep this one 90% full also?

I say we start with the politicians and the cops!

VOTE NO to PRISONS and YES to CANNABIS!


Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2014
Article comment by: Tom Babbitt

Marijuana legalization should bring about a 25 percent reduction in the prison population. Sheila Polk's campaign now gives us a legal foothold to claim bias and stop any new jail construction.

Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2014
Article comment by: A No Vote

No, I won't support this for several reasons, but I will take the opportunity to say that a part of the reason I will not support it is due to the shenanigans of Ms. Polk and her private campaign to subvert our rights as voters by overstepping both her authority and her place as our county attorney.

Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2014
Article comment by: Tom Babbitt

I had a conversation with a county official recently and he used words and phrases that were very telling. He said, "We, have layers and they don't" and "We'll just tell them what they can have.'
This sense of entitlement is rampant in our government and put us all at risk. We must vote NO until we get some response to all the complaints about our Justice system.


Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014
Article comment by: Bea Blea

Why aren't we spending this kind of money on programs to keep people "OUT" of jail? Building more jails and prisons to house more inmates does not solve problems. Sorry, I vote no.


Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014
Article comment by: Vote Yes

I am voting yes, this will create more jobs for Yavapai County.

Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014
Article comment by: Good point, Richard

Hold that thought, and apply it across the board. The underlying theme of half the campaigns this year will be that government agencies aren't collecting enough in taxes from the right people.

Posted: Friday, May 9, 2014
Article comment by: Richard Gohman

Until the County is willing to spend more money in the Verde Valley, on roads and the college for example, I think the Verde Valley community should vote down the tax increase to built a jail in the Prescott Valley side of the Mountains. The Verde Valley always gets short changed on the spread of funds by Yavapai County.



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