BISBEE — With the recommendations in hand from the Jail District Outreach Committee to form a jail district and build a new jail, the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 21 set a date for a public hearing of Nov. 15 to get the reactions from the community at large.
“This is beyond a reasonable doubt,” said retired Superior Court Judge James Conlogue is regard to the need for a new jail during the Oct. 21 meeting of committee.
The committee members have been meeting twice a month since August to hear from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and jail commander Kenny Bradshaw about the condition of the current facility. They took a tour of the jail to see for themselves the inefficiencies of the jail and the inherent problems with trying to upgrade and maintain it.
The committee members agreed a new jail is what the county needs, but some were not content with the current location of the jail in Bisbee. Some like Jon Kosmider and Frank Antenori suggested finding other land for the jail in Huachuca City or between Benson and Willcox due to save on prisoner transportation costs on trips to Tucson. David DePeso suggested Miracle Valley for the new jail location.
The suggestions will be reviewed, but the county owns the land where the jail is now located and its surrounding acreage with plenty of room to build a new jail as suggested by Dannels in previous meetings.
Committee member Paul Sheats stated, “Nobody likes a tax increase. There is a wisdom behind getting more information out to the public. I’m concerned about that. I want the Board of Supervisors to do do a little more homework on a location that would best serve the county.”
Though there were no prospective design plans of a jail, something all the members were hoping to see, they unanimously agreed to recommend the jail district, which would be paid by increasing the sales tax by one half of 1% to cover the estimated cost of $92 million. Thanks to state Rep. Gail Griffin, that sum is knocked down to $72 million as the state granted $20 million for the project.
While no one wants to raise taxes, the sales tax is a better plan as it will hit not just the pockets of residents, but also of those who pass through the county.
If property tax was raised to cover the jail, there would be a 31% increase which would be difficult for some, said County Administrator Richard Karwaczka.
Committee member Eric Peterman pointed out with the proposed new commercial port to go in just west of Douglas, there would be more people paying into the jail district fund as people resettle in the southeastern part of the county.
Conlogue stated, “The district allows for the additional services which need to be included. It would be foolish to rehabilitate the current jail.”
Dannels told the group, “It’s important to know the Sheriff’s Office is trusted by the community. We were lucky to have jail last 40 years, when it’s life span is 20 years. People know we have to do this.”
He noted the legal liability to meet prisoner care and safety, and that of the jail detention staff if nothing is done.
“I think it will pass,” added Dannels.
The new jail will be able to house over 400 inmates by 2040 and provide them with the needed security and privacy, a health clinic and other features needed to meet their needs. It would also provide safety and security for the guards and health care staff.
Following the committee meeting, Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby met and decided with the information they received, they would consider putting the jail district to a public vote in the meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 15, to meet the three week public notice requirement.
During the upcoming meeting, committee members and residents will be able to share their concerns for a new jail.
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