Voters give jail levy a big thumbs down
The effort to increase the Jefferson County Jail levy by 37 percent — from $1.24 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70 — was soundly rejected by county voters in last Tuesday's balloting.
The levy increase went down 5,344 to 3,172 in the unofficial count, a 62.8 to 37.2 margin.
Crooked River Ranch rejected the request by more than 70 percent of the vote, 1,667 no to 698 yes. But the Culver precinct voters were nearly as united against it, voting 339 against to 149 for the levy, a 69.5 percent margin.
Only one precinct in the county, Kutcher, which is Agency Plains area, supported the tax hike for jail operations, but by only the slightest of margins, one vote, 139 to 138.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which operates the county jail, was looking to backfill revenue that will soon disappear when Crook County, which has rented jail beds for 18 years, opens its own jail in 2019.
The jail has a current operating budget of $6.03 million per year. Crook County rents from 16 to 32 beds at a time, at $76.32 per inmate per day. At 25 inmates per day average, that would be just short of $700,000 for the year.
Sheriff Jim Adkins said prior to the vote that, if the levy request failed, he would put it before voters again in May. If it fails again in May, the facility could run as is until July, when funding levels would prompt changes, according to Adkins.
The jail has a capacity for 110 inmates. As of the beginning of November, it housed 91, and of those 25 were from Crook County.
The sheriff's office has a staff of 23 assigned to the jail. They maintain a minimum of three officers at the jail at all times, but Adkins has four teams of four working 12-hour shifts, four days on and four days off. While four teams of four is 16, the remaining staff backfills for vacations and other absences.
Faced with Crook County leaving, Adkins said he would continue to seek out potential bed-rental agreements with other counties or law government agencies. He believes as such entities face tighter economic squeezes, the odds of finding another renter improve.
But in the short term, the sheriff will be tasked with convincing many voters who rejected the levy hike in November to change their minds by May.