Cities weighing proposal for new Jackson County Jail

Six of eleven required cities have approved the proposal. All five remaining cities will have to approve before the measure can go to voters.

Posted: May 6, 2019 3:33 PM
Updated: May 6, 2019 3:51 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — The proposal to fund a new jail for Jackson County is gathering steam as it moves forward, but it could easily be torpedoed by politics at the city-level.

In order to fund the new jail, Jackson County's leaders need a county-wide jail service district to be approved by voters. In order to even see that measure on the ballot, each of the County's eleven cities first need to approve.

"So far, six Jackson County cities – Medford, Phoenix, Central Point, Butte Falls, Eagle Point, and Rogue River – have agreed to refer the matter of a proposed county-wide jail service district to voters," the Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said in a post on Monday.

Sickler said that the Ashland, Gold Hill, Jacksonville, and Shady Cove city councils have meetings scheduled this week and the next and will consider the proposal. However, Talent represents a potentially fatal holdout.

"Last week, councilors in Talent had the matter on their agenda and chose not to vote on the resolution at this time, saying they did not support the plan," Sickler said. "But, in order for Jackson County voters to have an opportunity to vote on the service district proposal this November, all eleven incorporated cities need to agree to enter the proposed district by May 17."

At present, JCSO and the County Commissioners are operating on a jail proposal that would cost homeowners $0.8353 per $1000 assessed property value, or about $157 dollars per year for the average homeowner in Jackson County.

"This funding will allow the construction and operation of a modern 800-bed jail, while significantly increasing our resources for addiction and mental health services," Sickler said. "Because the Jackson County library bonds fall off the tax rolls this year, property taxes will be reduced by approximately 12.5 cents per $1000 of assessed property value."

If the city council in Talent votes down the proposal — or if any other city does, for that matter — JCSO and the County will need to go back to the drawing board. It would mean that the new jail would not make any 2019 ballots.

"A new district would need to be drawn, excluding the boundaries that have opted out. An analysis would also need to be completed to see how further delays would impact the cost of construction and, therefore, the district rate," Sickler said. "A new tax rate would be figured and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners (BOC) would again consider whether they want to move forward with the district. Then each city council would again decide whether to participate and refer the proposal to voters."

Constant overcrowding at the current, venerable Jackson County Jail is essentially beyond dispute. The jail was built in 1981, with a capacity for 176 inmates. The Sheriff's Office has stretched that capacity to hold, at most, 315 inmates overnight. Most inmates are released before they can appear in court. Many of those who are given court dates never appear.

The Sheriff's Office has taken to calling this a "revolving door," since so many of these inmates who fail appear go on to re-offend, get out of jail before trial again, fail to appear again — wash, rinse, repeat.

"In the meantime, I will continue to provide the cities and the people of Jackson County with more opportunities to learn about the local criminal justice system and the numerous problems related to a lack of jail capacity," Sheriff Sickler concluded.

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