First things first. There is no space crisis at the jail. There is no imminent risk of matrixing. The supposed Deschutes County safety problem is just a sales pitch for a jail-tax increase.
Evidence #1: The county crime rate is down.
Evidence #2: Juvenile Justice is having lay-offs due to low usage.
Evidence #3: The work center is only half-full.
These are just a few of the many basic reasons the super-sized jail-tax push is a bad idea and an obsolete one. It doesn't add up on even the most basic level, and the numbers seem to come directly from the mythopoetic "local building lobby."
The sheriff is asking us to place a bet on the interest rate level for many years to come. By building this oversized whale of a building where at least 100 or more beds will not be in use for decades to come, we are betting current interest rates are the lowest they will be for many years.
Twenty years sounds reasonable, and that is clearly the sheriff's target theory, that we are seeing the best rates for the next two decades or so. But what about 30 or 40, or even close to 50 years? Guess what, if Deschutes county grows at anything less than 2.2 percent every single year for all of the next 20 years, the building will still be partially empty for well over two decades. If the county only grows at one percent or less for a few years, we will still be struggling to fill this jail for 40-plus years!
So how does that bet sound? Are you willing to pony up 44 million bucks in this economy with these property values on the chance that we are seeing the best interest rates for the next fifty years? I didn't think so.
We have already learned in this area, that we can't build our way out of a building crisis. Using optimistic growth numbers for the jail falls into the same trap - it's kind of a 2006 thing to do, but I guess no one has told the sheriff yet. While work center programs save money and reduce repeat offenses, Sheriff Blanton expresses satisfaction with its half-unoccupied size, even as he goes with hat in hand seeking money for some alarmist hype about early release that "could return" any day.
Early release ended in 2007, coincidentally, the day the work-release center expansion was completed. As long as there is space in that program, and a whole empty unit at the juvenile hall, the sheriff cannot claim to be dealing with any sort of real space crunch. He is in a tough position because law enforcement is one of the few industries where the better you and your co-workers perform at their jobs, the less demand there is for your services. So its very understandable that he would fight for long-term facilities and operations budgets, as we have seen the last few years, even if it means fudging the numbers sometimes.
People should be outraged about this, and many of those I talk to already are. However, with such low turnout in this election so far, a couple hundred votes is all we need! If you are sick of pointless taxes based on poor research, please take the ten minutes to vote down the jail tax! Don't place budget bets 50 years in the future!
- J. Gatling