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Ashland City Council Delays Vote On New County Jail

Photo of council members during meeting.
Erik Neumann/JPR News
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Ashland city council members chose to delay a vote on creating a funding mechanism for a new county jail on Tuesday.

The proposal to create a new jail in Jackson County took a slight step back on Tuesday night after Ashland city council members voted to delay their decision to approve a funding mechanism for the $171 million project.

Ashland is the only city holding up the plan. Councilmembers first want a commitment from Jackson County to fund more diversion programs to keep people out of jail in the first place.  

“A lot of our constituents are asking the question around what are those programs? What does the county intend to do with the programs that might prevent people from getting to the steps of the jail?” said Councilmember Tonya Graham.

Graham and other councilmembers are worried that creating a service district to collect a county-wide property tax to fund the jail would only pay for construction and operating costs, and not include more robust prevention services.  

“Those other upstream pieces cannot be done within the service district of the jail,” she said.

The jail proposal has been in the works since Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler came into office several years ago. The current 300-bed jail is too small, Sickler says, resulting in inmates routinely being released early, lessening law enforcement’s ability to deter crime.

“For us the jail is that backbone to what we do,” said Eric Guyer, Community Justice Director of Jackson County. “I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer for this but the jail is a very important piece and that capacity has to be looked at.”

The new proposal would increase space to an approximately 800-bed facility. The $171 million price tag would be paid for in a county-wide property tax increase.

Last May the new jail proposal went before the 11 incorporated cities in Jackson County. The Ashland city council voted it down and the City of Talent chose not to vote.

This year Sheriff Sickler brought two proposals before city councils. One includes all 11 cities within Jackson County. The other would leave Talent out of the service district all-together, eliminating their vote. Talent is small enough that eliminating it would not dramatically change the property tax increase and still pay for the jail.

That decision removed Talent’s vote but gave the Ashland council more leverage.

The annual property tax increase to fund the 800-bed jail would be $85.47 per $100,000 of assessed home value if Talent is included in the service district. It would be slightly more at $87.19 per $100,000 if Talent is not included.

The proposals will next go before the City of Talent, Medford, Rogue River and Central Point. Ashland councilmembers have until their Dec. 3 meeting before they plan to vote again.

If either of the two proposals are approved by all 11 cities in Jackson County, or 10 cities excluding Talent, the jail decision will go before voters in the May 2020 election.