BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On August 27 the Board of County Commissioners of Arapahoe County (BOCC) voted unanimously to ask voters to approve Measure 1A in November, a property tax increase to pay for a new county jail facility. The cost to property owners would be $66 per year on the average home in Arapahoe County until the bonds are paid off in 2052, after which it would decrease to $44 per year.
For that investment, the residents of Arapahoe County will get a new jail facility that is technologically up-to-date with modern security features for the safety of guards and inmates. It will have 1,612 beds and three new housing pods, along with 11 multipurpose classrooms where inmates can get much-needed mental health programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, crisis intervention services, religious and spiritual services, counseling programs, domestic violence and anger management programs, and substance abuse and addiction classes to address the life issues that may have landed them in jail. In addition, there will be programs focused on successful life skills to help them avoid reoffending, such as career classes, financial classes, parenting classes, health programs, GED classes, continuing education classes, computer skills classes, and college readiness workshops.
A new medical outpatient facility at the jail, along with separate units for inmates with severe medical and behavioral issues, will better address health issues and prevent complicated individual problems facing some inmates from impacting the general population.
At the public hearing at the Arapahoe County Government Administration Building at 5334 S. Prince Street in Littleton, commissioners heard first from Michelle Halstead, the county’s director of communication and administrative services. She told the BOCC that the current population of Arapahoe County is 650,000 and is projected to balloon to 800,000 in 2030. She talked about the years of research and planning that has gone into developing a plan for the new jail and about how the 25-person Long Range Planning Committee (ACLRPC) met 7 times for 11 hours between May 14 and August 6 before recommending that the BOCC ask the voters to approve Measure 1A.
Also testifying at the hearing and asking the BOCC to move the question to the voters was Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, who said, “I believe it’s critical that the county build a modern and safe detention facility. Assaults on sheriffs’ staff have increased 320 percent over the last three years. Inmates packed into pods are taxing our plumbing and electrical, and even the floors.” Beyond the logistical challenges, Brown said, “We want to improve inmates’ lives by providing services that will allow them to return to their lives in better condition than when they arrived (at the jail).”
Eight other people testified at the public hearing, including six members of the ACLRPC. All spoke in favor of asking voters to approve Measure 1A to build a new jail. Not one person testified against the proposal.
Before casting his vote in favor of Measure 1A, BOCC Chair Jeff Baker said that every citizen he has heard from on this issue favors building a new jail. The only questions he got were about the funding mechanism.
Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, in explaining why she was voting yes, pointed to the support of the citizens committee (ACLRPC) who studied the issue in depth, and to the fact that one-third of the additional tax levy will be eliminated when the bonds are paid off. Said Sharpe, “I truly believe that this is the only way we can solve this problem. There is no way I can see it in the regular budget.”
If voters approve the measure, the BOCC will establish a citizen advisory committee to review and monitor the expenditures associated with the project.
After the meeting Baker told us that the BOCC issued a bid waiver for Reilly Johnson Architecture to design the new jail facility, if it is approved, because they have been involved in the process to develop the plan since 2010. According to their website, Reilly Johnson Architecture has designed at least ten other detention and justice facilities in Colorado. Baker added that all other contracts involved in the construction, if Measure 1A is approved, will go through the county’s regular bidding process.
Registered voters in Arapahoe County will find Measure 1A on their combined county ballot for the November 5 election that will be mailed out by County Clerk Joan Lopez the week of October 14.
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