Prisons and Bonds

When you’re a political junkie, every season is election season.

And if you’re a good citizen, it’s the same.

Idahoans have election days in March, May, August, and November each year.  We elect national Congress members; state, city and county officials; state legislators; and library, highway, fire and school district trustees.  In addition, voters have a say on levies and bonds.

Next Tuesday, May 21, is an election day; absentee voting is already underway at the Elections Office, 1102 Chicago,in Caldwell. (To find what’s on your ballot, go to and click “What’s on my ballot.”)

In May 2017 ten different ballot questions faced Canyon County voters: trustees for one fire, three highway, and three school districts plus three school levies.

This year various Ada County voters face three elections and three levies. In Canyon County only Parma voters have an election.

It’s as though agencies have shied away from sharing the polls with the big Canyon County question: Do you want to authorize $187 million in bonds to build a new jail?

That’s a tough one.

I have to admit I’ve never been faced with a school bond I didn’t support.

Vallivue District wanted $65 million to build a new middle school and remodel the old one.

No problem.

Even though that bond actually cost Vallivue property owners as much or more than the county’s jail proposal,  property taxes collected would change little.

Schools are built and renovated often enough that districts have made an art of timing repayment of new bonds to phase in as old bonds are paid off.

Counties don’t build as much. Canyon property owners are facing a significant tax increase.

Yet, few question that something needs to be done.

The county’s been using a “temporary” tent facility for 14 years; there have been nine escapes since 2015. That has to affect house values as well as public safety.

Canyon’s paying hefty rates for 26 prisoners farmed out to other counties.

And 400 suspects deemed “safety risks” are free awaiting trial.

So the question isn’t do we need to do something, but how much are we willing to do?

Would voters be more likely to give the necessary two-thirds approval to a bond of $150 million? $125 million?  Maybe $100 million?

Those of us who remember the launching of the current jail understand that it’s possible to be too frugal. A better design could have allowed better surveillance with fewer staff. And some things simply didn’t work–like the electronic doors that opened when they shouldn’t. As a technician with the county in 2000, my husband Bill claimed that jail doors had been jerry-rigged so many times that it was unusual to find two wired alike.

And an ACLU lawsuit has required the county to tackle the ventilation and plumbing problems. (Bill had found the ventilation so poor that it took strategizing to get smoke to detectors in the time required by safety tests.)

It doesn’t help that the Idaho Department of Corrections is calling for a new 1,500-bed state prison costing $500 million. That may not fall entirely on property taxes, but someone’s taxes will go up.

Having a hard time deciding how to vote?

That’s how it is for many responsible voters. One weighs the pros and cons and then trusts the shared wisdom of the electorate.

Together we will make the right decision–or learn from our mistakes.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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