County Mulls Funding For Jail Fixes: Federal Agreement Calls For Changes Within 4 Years
Date: December 13, 2009
Oklahoma County officials under federal pressure to improve conditions at their jail have started holding weekly meetings to try to come up with a way to raise money for construction. The U.S. Justice Department removed some inmates from the jail last year after determining conditions there were substandard.
- Oklahoma County -
Federal officials have threatened to take over the jail if improvements aren`t made soon, although they reached an agreement with the county in October that gives local authorities four years to build a new jail or renovate the existing one to meet constitutional standards.
The work is estimated to cost between $300 million and $400 million. Oklahoma County doesn`t currently collect a sales tax but commissioners agree that`s the best option for paying for construction, although how long such a tax might last hasn`t been discussed.
County Treasurer Butch Freeman estimated a half-cent sales tax would generate about $57 million a year. Selling bonds could be another option.
County Commissioner Ray Vaughn said Friday he`d like to develop a ballot proposal by March so a vote could be held May 11. No decisions were made at the meeting.
"This is about public safety and it`s stuff we`ve got to do," Vaughn said, noting that it`s a bad time for a sales-tax election, considering the economic downturn.
"I certainly hope people don`t think we are proposing this because we want to," he said. "The gun is kind of to our head, and we don`t have a lot of time."
Fellow Commissioner Brian Maughan said he thought a sales tax was the only viable alternative but he wanted more information about the costs before making a decision.
If federal officials take legal action, the money for the work would come from county property tax rolls and would have to be paid back in full in three years, which county officials fear would result in hefty property tax increases.
"Huge would be the best word I could use," Freeman said. "You are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars paid out over only three years."