BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On August 6, the Arapahoe County Long Range Planning Committee held its seventh and final meeting — for now. Committee members have been told they will reconvene later to talk about transportation funding and open space in the county.
All five Arapahoe County Commissioners and 17 of the 25 committee members attended. Facilitators from the Keystone Policy Center asked each committee member what they believe is the best course of action and why. The majority felt there was a demonstrated need for a new jail, but not for a new courthouse or enhancement to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s headquarters. Most also agreed that asking the voters to approve an additional property tax of $5.43 per month was the best way to pay for a new jail.
Many noted that even though much effort has gone into informing voters about the dire need to replace the jail, less has been said about the need to approve a tax increase to pay for it. Committee members expressed strong concern that there might not be enough time to educate the public sufficiently to convince them to vote for a tax increase, even one that is $5.43 per month. The idea of asking voters to approve a sales tax increase to pay for the jail was roundly rejected by the committee.
Asked to state their reasons for supporting a tax increase for a new jail, committee members expressed awareness that it could not be done with current resources, so a tax increase was necessary. Among the reasons committee members listed for a new jail were overcrowding, safety of inmates and staff, the inability to separate inmates with mental health challenges, the inability to deliver valuable programs to reduce recidivism and the deteriorated condition of the building.
Committee member Grayson Robinson, who served as Arapahoe County Sheriff from 2002 until 2014, said about the jail, “A twenty-year symptom has become a debilitating disease.” He raised the idea of asking voters to consider the tax increase as a “return on investment,” posing the question, “What is the cost of inmates not getting needed treatment and services?”
Committee member Lori Eddlemon pointed out that 16,000 inmates go through the Arapahoe County Jail annually. Each stays an average of 28 days. Providing services could make a huge difference in helping a large number of people get on a better path.
After listening to the committee for over an hour, county commissioners weighed in. All went out of their way to thank the committee for its time and hard work.
Chairman Jeff Baker said, “No decisions have been made. The impact of the decision we have to make is not lost on us.”
From Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, “You validated some things that I thought. You gave me new things to think about.”
Commissioner Bill Holen told the committee, “This process has opened my eyes to how important it is to listen to every person’s point of view.” Later, he told The Villager, “I felt the meeting was very productive. It was a very thoughtful and in-depth conversation with members of the committee, all of whom provided great insightful recommendations, many of which we’ll probably use in our final decision.”
Commissioner Nancy Jackson said, “I’ve been working to decriminalize mental health. We shouldn’t tie mental health to criminal justice.”
From Commissioner Kathleen Conti, who said she’d taken detailed notes, “You told us what you thought and why.”
Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown thanked the commissioners and the committee members “from the whole law enforcement family. We are thankful for this partnership.”
The Villager asked Baker about the county commissioners’ next steps. He said they will meet as a group and discuss their options. If they agree that asking voters to approve a tax increase to build a jail is their next step, there will be a public hearing on the question before it is placed on the November 5 ballot.
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