MEDFORD, Ore. -- Medford was the last city to join the Jail Service District Thursday night. The Medford City Council voted to join the district 6-2. Joining would allow Medford voters to vote on whether or not they would like to see a new, bigger jail.
Councilmembers voted on two resolutions — one for if the city of Talent decides to change its mind and join, and one without Talent. Other cities, including Ashland and Central Point, already voted in favor of joining.
"The way the current system works is 15 to 20 people every single day on average get arrested and almost immediately get released within a few hours or overnight," said Councilor Kevin Stine. He was one of the councilmembers who voted to join. "It's a very unsustainable system and the community as a whole is suffering."
Councilor Clay Bearnson was one of the two councilmembers who voted against joining.
"I'm concerned about people that are on a fixed income because property taxes are going to go up. I think that if the County really wants to be a part of the solution, they should take the money [they are giving to build a jail] and build an addiction recovery solution," he said at the meeting.
Most of the people who spoke to the City Council aligned with Bearnson.
"We do not need a 800-plus bed jail but would rather invest in our mental health services such as needle exchanges, rehabilitation centers and have diversion programs," said one Medford resident.
Others said Jackson County would be safer with a larger jail and that the jail needs to be able to accomodate the growing population.
"A new facility must accomodate our needs 10 to 20 years in the future, just like you don't design a new road in Medford based on today's needs. You design it based on future capacity," said a Phoenix resident that spoke.
Jackson County already bought a piece of land to build a new jail. Should the jail make the May 2020 ballot and pass, property owners would pay an additional 87 cents per assessed value. For example, if a home is worth $200,000, that owner would pay an additional $174 a year in taxes.
The jail now moves to the Jackson County Commissioners before it is placed on the May 2020 ballot.
A previous push to create the Jail Service District failed in May of this year when both Ashland and Talent voted against joining. However, Sheriff Nathan Sickler has championed the cause of a new jail and worked toward a proposal that Jackson County's cities would be more likely to accept.