Vote on fixes at Oklahoma County jail could wait until December
Date: January 7, 2010
A vote on a $350 million-plus fix for the Oklahoma County jail, expected in May, could be delayed until as late as December, county officials said Wednesday.
- Oklahoma County -
County commissioners had hoped to get the issue on the ballot before statewide primary and general elections take place.
Commissioners seemed to favor a May election when they began crafting a sales tax proposal last month. District 3 Commissioner Ray Vaughn said plans for a May election now look unrealistic.
Inspectors from the U.S. Justice Department, which released a scathing report on the jail in 2008, were expected to re-visit the jail this month. But Vaughn said that inspection now has been delayed until sometime in March.
"We made it very clear that we would like for them to come do an inspection and then have time to do their report, which they said would take about two months, before we took the issue to the public," Vaughn said. "That really crowds that May date."
The county has signed an agreement with the Justice Department to fix overcrowding, understaffing and various other problems at the jail.
Pay now or pay later
If the county doesn't meet the conditions of the agreement, federal officials could file a lawsuit to take over the jail and implement changes, which would be funded by county property taxes.
Vaughn said he doesn't like the idea of putting the jail issue on the ballot during statewide races, which could push the vote as far back as December.
"The good thing is it could abate the cost of the election, but we need everybody focused on this issue," Vaughn said.
Some county officials fear the proposal would have a harder time passing if it were on the ballot for the primary election.
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan disagrees. Election officials have told commissioners the county would save $125,000 in election costs by holding it during the statewide primary, runoff or general election.
Maughan said he thinks a wider audience also would give the proposal a better chance of passing.
"We have a certain niche of people who go to those special elections," he said. "I want people who are more objective and think about the bigger issues."
Vaughn said he's worried about the jail issue being lost on a primary ballot that will include up to 90 races.
Vaughn and District 1 Commissioner Willa Johnson will also face re-election this year, which further complicates the decision about when to put the jail proposal on the ballot. If one or more new commissioners were elected, they likely would want to be included in making decisions about the jail.
"You have to take all those things into consideration," Vaughn said. "All of that will factor into our decision. We'll weigh all the factors and come up with what's best."
Vaughn said the issue of when to hold the election likely will be discussed further at upcoming commissioners' meetings.