BANNOCK COUNTY, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - One of the big issues up for vote on November ballots in Bannock County is the $16 million jail bond.
Last May, the bond did not get the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Based on public input, Sheriff Lorin Nielsen and county commissioners have worked to make some changes to the bond proposal.
This week, a town hall meeting was held for the public to ask questions about the bond.
County commissioners said there was a good turnout - around 150 people showed up and nearly every chair was filled.
Nielsen said he was pleased not only with the turnout but with what questions were asked.
"I feel that the public is getting informed, does understand the issues and the alternatives that we have taken from the last time to this time," Nielsen said of the meeting.
Since the last vote, the bond has been lowered by $2 million, the number of additional beds on the expansion has been reduced and a treatment center has been included.
At the town hall, there was a panel with the sheriff, commissioners, health representatives and judicial experts.
Nielsen said one thing the public brought up was the question of the necessity of the bond.
"I think a lot of questions that they had is why don't we just get treatment and leave the jail alone? And I know that sounds real well but our jail is 22 years old," Nielsen explained. "It's way past its warranty. There are issues in the jail such as our lock system, our camera system - that if they went out, we would have to shut the jail down. Completely. And so those issues need to be addressed."
He said the public also wanted to know the cost and the effects to both individuals and the community.
Nielsen explained that for the average household value of $200,000 property value, taxes would onl increase $2.27 per month. For a value of $250,000, that would increase by about $3 per month. He said he understands the concerns that even a couple of dollars is a concern for people but people should understand where their tax dollars are going. Currently, jail funding and expenses are put toward housing inmates in other counties. With that and cost of minimal upkeep for an old jail, it's costly for the county and for taxpayers.
Nielsen said he got to speak with some people after the meeting as well, who shared their thoughts on the bond.
"Most of the people felt excited about it," Nielsen said. "A lot of them had stories about family, friends or relatives that had been involved in this that felt that this would have been a better chance [with the treatment center.] Some even came up and said, 'I wish I had this.'"
Nielsen said if the bond does not pass this time around, the solution could end up in the hands of the courts or the state. He said the overcrowding and current conditions of the jail are not up to federal standards and so legally, something will have to be done one way or another. He hopes the public will vote in favor so the county can be in control of this solution, rather than waiting and being stuck with whatever the state or courts may come up with.
Nielsen also added that the overcrowding will not go away on its own because inmates continue to come in all the time. He said one example of this is drug crime. A recent study listed 16 counties in the entire U.S. as "high density drug trafficking areas" and Bannock County was one of those 16.
Information on the jail bond is available on its website.