Friday, February 2, 2007

Jail bond election set for Tuesday

Voters encouraged to head to polls Feb. 6


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Express file photo Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling displays and discusses plans for the new county jail in Hailey.

For the fourth time in 17 years, Blaine County citizens are being asked to decide the fate of the county jail.

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, Feb. 6, to cast ballots for or against a bond that would help pay for a new public safety facility and communications center.

Voters rejected similar measures in 1990, 1995 and 1996.

But sentiment appears to have changed this go-around.

Opposition to the bond has been scant. A few local attorneys told the Idaho Mountain Express they thought the bond was a bad idea, but none were willing to have their identities revealed.

Meanwhile, about 500 citizens, community leaders and elected officials signed an advertisement that has run in local newspapers supporting the bond.

If the $10.46 million bond is approved by two-thirds of voters, county citizens can expect an increase in taxes of about $2 per $100,000 of property value. That's $8 per year for the average Hailey homeowner, where the median home price is $400,000.

Sheriff Walt Femling has been trying to corral funding for a new facility for more than 17 years. The current facility was built in 1972, and it is in a heightened state of disrepair with degraded plumbing, lighting and ventilation. There isn't enough room for inmates—females are now transported to facilities out of the county—and conditions have been deemed unhealthy and dangerous for inmates and guards alike.

The hallways adjacent to cells are so narrow and cramped that inmates can reach through the bars and grab guards. Femling said jail employees have even had bodily fluids thrown at them.

The conditions are such that Femling is fearful that it's just a matter of time before someone hammers the county with a hefty lawsuit.

"What we don't want to do is lose a big lawsuit," Femling said last week. "And under these conditions there's no way to protect (ourselves) from lawsuits."

Femling said detractors of the bond have been spreading misinformation, mainly that the new facility would be unnecessarily large and taxpayers would be overly burdened.

The new jail, which would be located at the Airport West light-industrial park in Hailey, would include 44 beds for regular inmates and 20 beds for inmates in the work-release program. It would also house the sheriff's office and a new consolidated dispatch center and could be expanded in the future.

The current jail, which Femling said is typically filled to capacity, has 27 total beds.

To back his claims about the state of the facility, Femling has been offering free public tours, which he said have been eye opening.

"Once they walk in there they're horrified," Femling said about citizens touring the jail.

Femling said the facility's plumbing, which is rotting, could force it to shut down in the near future. If that happens without a new facility in place, all inmates will have to be shipped to other counties, which could cost Blaine County taxpayers millions.

According to a notice of the bond election, Blaine County has no existing indebtedness.

The interest rate anticipated on the proposed bonds is 4.53 percent. The range of anticipated rates is from 3.50 percent to 5.125 percent. The total amount to be repaid over the life of the proposed bonds, principal and interest, is estimated to be $16,400,000.

(For results of Tuesday's bond election, see the Wednesday Mountain Express or visit www.sunvalleycentral.com.)

Polling places

The following are the official polling places of Blaine County as of Dec. 5, 2006. The county reserves the right to change the polling place for any precinct in the manner provided by law, prior to the election.

Precinct number Polling place

12 Carey City Hall

11 Silver Creek C-Store

10 Bellevue Elementary School Library

6, 7, 8, 14 Community Campus, Room 301-302

1, 2, 3, 4 Ketchum City Hall

5, 13 Sun Valley City Hall

9 Yale (mail only)

15 Absentee




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