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June 5th, 2004 - The Olympian (WA)

Voters Crush Proposal For New Justice Center

Loss Pinned On Voter Wariness To Raise Taxes

By Heather Woodward

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Thurston County's regional justice center proposal failed by an overwhelming margin in Tuesday's special election.

An $88 million bond issue to help pay for the $102.7 million project required a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

The proposal would have raised property taxes 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 20 years, or $87 annually for a $170,000 home.

The price was simply too high for many voters.

Almost 62 percent of the 41,899 ballots counted Tuesday night were cast against the project.

"This is a time when people are skeptical about anything that raises their taxes," said Donald Krupp, Thurston County's chief administrative officer. "It's tough enough to encourage folks to support building a new jail. It's even harder to ask people to raise their taxes for a new jail."

County elections officials said Tuesday night they didn't expect more than 10,000 additional ballots to come in. That means there's no way the vote could swing the other direction.

"I think most people voted early," said Gary Alexander, the county's deputy auditor.

The justice center project included a 640-bed jail and four nonjury courtrooms at Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater. It also would have remodeled existing courtrooms at the courthouse in Olympia.

With voters having spoken decisively on the measure, elected officials from across the county will have to regroup and decide what to do next. A previously scheduled meeting Friday of elected officials who crafted the project will be the first step.

The bond issue's failure should prompt a countywide effort to determine why voters cast their ballots the way they did, Krupp said.

"This jail crowding problem isn't going to go away," Krupp said. "Any solution is going to require a commitment from the community to be able to solve it."

The county jail was built in 1978 for 86 inmates. Since then, the county has double-bunked and added more beds to accommodate as many as 408 inmates, including 92 at an adjacent annex.

There's an average of 350 to 400 inmates in the jail and annex at any given time, not counting those transported to the Yakima or Benton county jails to reduce crowding or those admitted to diversion programs. American Correctional Association standards would allow 221 inmates in the jail based on its square footage.

Thurston County Undersheriff Neil McClanahan, who helped develop the project and also is a Tumwater councilman, said he thinks voters would have been more likely to support a sales tax increase.

"I think it was the wrong revenue base," he said of the proposal's bond issue financing. "People do not want their property taxes increased."

Those opposed to the project said Tuesday they hope the county would seek more input from the public about what to do next.

Chris Stegman, a member of Thurston Jail Alternatives, said he thinks a building the county purchased several years ago in Mottman Industrial Park could provide short-term relief for jail crowding.

"It's not the ideal long-term solution," he said, "but it would fix things so the county can begin planning a more realistic solution."

Thurston County Regional Justice Center bond issue: 16,048 in favor, or 38.54 percent; 25,597 opposed, or 61.46 percent. Failed.

The Justice Project Oversight Committee, a group of elected officials from Thurston County, Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Yelm, Tenino, Rainier and Bucoda, will meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday to discuss what to do next. The meeting will be at the Thurston County Courthouse.

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