Davis: County supervisors building new jail because they have to

With elections underway we are hearing differing views regarding the Yavapai County jail project.

Question: who wants to raise taxes? Answer: no one.

Question: who wants to pay for and build a jail? Answer: no one.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors have grappled with this issue for more than 20 years and have the same answers. The supervisors didn’t then and don’t now want to raise taxes or have to build a jail. The problem is this isn’t an elective decision, Arizona State Statutes require that the Board of Supervisors “shall” provide the facilities for the sheriff to house prisoners.

Elected leaders of all county positions are required to carry out state statutes and do not get to pick and choose which ones they want to abide by. In this case, the supervisors have to rely on information from the elected sheriff and the presiding judge. There has been much collaboration and investment to keep our criminal justice system as efficient as possible. In the past 20 years, the county has implemented such programs as Early Disposition court, Drug court, Family court, Veterans court and, most recently, the “Reach Out” program, all designed to minimize the amount of time people are held in jail and to minimize recidivism. The new detention facility is specifically designed for the court and support programs that will get and keep people out of jail.

In 1997, the federal government deemed the prisoner overcrowding in the county jails so bad that it vowed to take over our jail system if we did not do something about it. In the essence of time, Yavapai County contemplated siting a Prescott jail on part of the several hundred acres we had received from the Bureau of Land Management, what is now mostly Pioneer Park. Adjacent neighbors did not like that idea, so the county elected to expand the Camp Verde jail.

Bear in mind that Yavapai County is 8,125 square miles and placing your largest detention facility in the far east portion of the county (50 miles from the major population center) is costly and not ideal for the law enforcement agencies in the central and western portions of the county. We have known that we would utilize the Verde jail to buy time to go through a well-vetted public process, find the right location and plan to build an efficient jail to be ready when we forecasted our numbers to reach capacity. Today, the Yavapai County jail facility is at capacity.

Some folks have stated the citizens have voted twice to say “no jail.” The question to the voters has always been how do you want to pay for it? I will state again the board has to provide the facility and cannot just wish the problem to go away.

Some folks have complained how it will drive property values down. Since there are zero residential units in the area, I am pretty sure the jail facility won’t devalue the wastewater plant or the trash transfer station.

Some say it will draw the families of the criminals to move here to be close to their family member. The new facility is designed to be a holding and processing facility, not a prison, holding folks while they await their hearing. Those sentenced to jail will be housed in Camp Verde.

Some say it will ruin downtown Prescott. The county jail was in the courthouse and, then around 1979, it was moved up the street two blocks to the Gurley/Marina building.

Some say it has doubled in price since we asked the voters to approve the sales tax increase. If we wait another 8 to 10 years, you can double it again.

Some folks claim the process has not been open and transparent. Public meetings have been held regarding the hiring of consultants, hiring of the architect and contractor of the Verde expansion, potential sites to build the Prescott jail, the need to close the Prescott jail because of outdated design, the property purchase from the old sawmill site, the sawmill site environmental cleanup, the campaign twice to increase the sales tax, the public meeting to go to bond, and the discussion and action by the board in public to hire an owner’s representative, architect, engineer, and construction manager.

The county just bonded for the project and received $65 million in proceeds. The bond agreement does not allow the county to return the money until nine years into the 20-year repayment period. The annual debt payment is $4.3 million, which has been built into the county’s operating budget. The penalties for trying to return the bond proceeds will be an expensive, inefficient and unwise use of taxpayer funds.

I hope this helps clarify the jail story.

Chip Davis is a former Yavapai County supervisor (1996-2016). This column by Davis, a candidate for County Treasurer, was published because it clarifies the jail debate; it has nothing to do with his uncontested campaign.

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