Saturday, October 22, 2016

Siskiyou County's Measure G and funding a new jail

If approved by more than 50 percent of Siskiyou County voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax, which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually to help fund a new jail.

Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 grand jury report on the jail.
Proponents of Measure G are asking Siskiyou County voters to pass the measure to support a new jail for the county.
If approved by more than 50 percent of county voters on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure G will authorize a one-quarter of one percent (.25%) increase on sales tax which is estimated to generate about $1 million annually.
County counsel Brian Morris’s impartial analysis printed in the County of Siskiyou Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet says the tax will be “...remitted to the county of Siskiyou for general purposes to be placed in the county General Fund and could be used to service the construction loan liability for the construction of the new County jail project, and would expire automatically at the end of the loan term, unless extended by the voters.”
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said Siskiyou County has received an allocation of $27 million from AB900 Phase 1 and II funding awards from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections.
He said that due to rising construction costs that is not enough to cover the proposed 180 bed County jail. The County will need a $9.7 million construction loan to cover the additional costs.
Lopey said in a recent interview that the community would be safer with the new jail. “It’s because we have to release the offenders back into the community,” he said. “It would be nice to keep the habitual non-violent instead of having to release them.”
Andy Fusso from Siskiyou Forward Movement, who wrote the argument against Measure G in the voter’s pamphlet said in an interview, “I’m not opposed to upgrading the jail or replacing it with a jail the right size.” He said he’s not 100% convinced the county needs a jail any bigger than the current one.
More room
Jail Commander, Lieutenant Jeff Huston, said the current county jail doesn't have room for misdemeanors and is just housing felons. He stressed that a felon is released to make room for each new felon. “It’s one for one,” he said.
The current jail has 103 jail beds plus four medical beds. On Lopey’s “Talking Points” jail project fact sheet he handed out at a recent Lake Shastina town hall meeting, it said the jail's average daily population for 2015/16 is 102 and so far in this fiscal year the average number of inmates booked per month is 278.
In the past, according to Huston, sentence terms in county jails were a year or less. After the state of California’s realignment program started in 2011, county jail inmates are getting longer terms. He said they had an inmate with a term of eight years in their facility. Huston did not know the maximum time an offender could receive in a county jail.
The Siskiyou County Grand Jury 2015-2016 report states “The current jail was designed to house people awaiting trial and those serving sentences of less than one year. Due to AB 109 Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS) policies, which came into effect October 1, 2011, most felons must now be housed in the county jail rather than being sent to state prisons. At the present time, only felons are serving their sentences in the jail; there is no room for lesser offenders.”
The Grand Jury report also states due to overcrowding in the current jail if 50 inmates a year are sent out of the county to other jails, the cost is estimated to be $1,440,000 per year plus transportation costs.
Also in the report it was noted that it was not possible to expand the existing jail upwards or into the parking lot, and the building must be brought up to current code requiring major renovation.
Fusso said, “We’re not going to solve our basic problems simply by warehouseing people for a period of time. If we build a bigger and bigger jail, we’re not effectively reducing crime.” He added, “We have to effectively intervene when someone commits a crime.”
Fusso said, “We solve this problem one person at a time.” He explained that “a better way to solve this problem is to train people and develop people; instead of being criminals, they are becoming productive people in our community.”
Lopey said the biggest issue in favor of the jail is safety for staff and community. He explained that the new jail will allow for classification of inmates, separating dangerous from non-violent, and for better observation of inmates. He said the new jail will have enough beds for females and those with health issues.
Huston said the architects planning the new jail say power expenses will be the same as the current jail. He said water costs might increase, but indicated that can be managed because they have control over how much water inmates use. Lopey said the new jail will be more efficient. Huston said there are no plans to increase staffing for the new jail.
Lopey said the new jail will have more room to initiate rehabilitation programs.
“We're going to expand the programs we have, but it will be cost neutral. We are working very hard to rehabilitate people. The new jail will allow us more space and resources to increase our rehabilitation abilities,” he said. “We want them to be more productive during their time in jail.”
He listed many rehabilitation programs including gardening, education, equine therapy, work projects, work crews, training on chainsaws and other implements, Sheriff's Alternate Work Program (SWAP) crews, contracts with Caltrans, work with Great Northern providing firewood to elderly and disabled, and alternate work programs, and vocational training in the kitchen.
Lopey's “Talking Point” handout states the new jail “will fulfill county needs for 50+ years.”
Special vs. general tax
One of the arguments against the measure is the concern that taxes for a specific purpose – special taxes – require a 2/3 approval margin by voters while a general tax requires only 50 percent plus one vote.
A previous special tax measure to help fund a new jail in Siskiyou County fell short of the required 2/3 approval margin.
Measure G is a general tax measure that county supervisors have said they want to use for a new jail.
In his argument against the measure, Fusso quotes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association to say, “This proposal is offensive. Tax elections should not be manipulated by promising the voters a specific purpose while not requiring a 2/3 vote needed to pass a “special tax” (that is, a tax for specific purpose).”
In the July 12 minutes of the board of supervisors meeting, it states that Supervisor Michael Kobseff “spoke in opposition to submitting a request for a general tax versus a special tax measure to the voters, sharing concerns that a future Board could over turn the current Board's decision to dedicate tax revenues to the Jail project.”
During a recent phone interview, Kobseff said he raised that concern for the other board members to consider. He said the dynamics are different on this, because the lien will be on a county asset. He believes that will keep future board members committed to paying back the construction loan with the tax revenues.
Kobseff, along with all the other county supervisors, voted in favor of the tax. Kobseff said, “If there were any other options I would have pushed fast and hard. The difficult part is, the county doesn't have the resources to build a new jail on their own. If we don't get this we’re turning back $27 million.”
Another argument against Measure G addresses AB900 authorization of lease-revenue bonds financing for Phase I and II local jail construction funding. Fusso wrote in his argument against in the voter’s pamphlet, “Fancy financing ‘lease-revenue’ bonds for jails and prisons have one state agency paying another state agency premium interest using your tax dollars and pretending that's ‘revenue’ – it’s not!”
Fusso explained, “It’s the state taking our taxes to pay the bond.” He said a no on Measure G stops us from participating in an unethical scheme.”
October 20, 2016
The Siskiyou Daily News
By Liz Pyles

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