BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
Built 36 years ago for 386 inmates, the Arapahoe County Jail currently holds around 1,200 inmates. It has only 20 cells for those with behavioral health issues, while Sheriff’s Office Bureau Chief of Detention Services Vince Line estimates 40 percent of inmates have mental health challenges. The booking and detention center, used by all municipal police departments in the county, has only 18 cells, but frequently houses 70-80 inmates awaiting intake or release.
At their sixth meeting in ten weeks, the 25-member Arapahoe County Long Range Planning Committee heard from Michelle Halstead, county communication and administrative services director, about the various means and methods used by elected and appointed officials to get the word out about the need for a new county jail facility. Then they heard from pollster Floyd Ciruli who told the committee about where voters stood on the issue.
Halstead described a campaign of heavy social media use, along with print and digital advertising. She said that 80,000 households were reached by digital media and 45,000 by print media, through the end of July. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are 235,263 households in Arapahoe County.
Ciruli told the committee that he and the Ehlers Group had been retained in 2018 to survey public opinion.
They conducted two scientific surveys of likely voters in Arapahoe County, one in January 2019 and one just completed, between July 22 and July 26. The data demonstrated that outreach efforts about the need for a new jail were effective. In January, 49 percent of residents agreed that a new jail should be built. That number grew to 63 percent by the last week of July. Confirming that finding, from January to July, Ciruli’s surveys saw the number of people who were against building a new jail drop from 36 percent to 20 percent.
Direct funding for a new jail was only supported by 48 percent of the voters Ciruli sampled, regardless of whether it was presented in the form of a property tax increase of $65.16 annually, on an average ($380,000) home or an additional sales tax of $82.00 annually.
Only 28 percent supported a property tax increase for a combined project including the jail, the courthouse, and the district attorney’s building. The option of doing the combined project with new sales tax dollars drew 38 percent support.
Ciruli told the committee that the general rule is that one would only go forward with a ballot initiative if the support was greater than 50 percent “unless you really need to do so.”
When a committee member asked how a campaign to promote any proposed ballot measure would be funded, Lynn Myers, Senior Vice-President of Denver South Economic Development Partnership, said, “Preliminary steps have been taken to find people who will support a campaign.”
The committee is expected to vote on a recommendation to the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners following its meeting on August 6. Options will include proposals for the November 5 ballot for an increase in property taxes or sales taxes to cover the cost of building a new Arapahoe County Jail only or a new criminal justice complex, including the jail and a new Arapahoe County Justice Center (courthouse), as well as an addition to the headquarters of the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office.
2018 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |