TWIN FALLS — The county will ask voters for money for the first time in more than 30 years to expand capacity at its jail facilities.
Twin Falls County commissioners Monday unanimously approved asking voters to pass a $25 million bond issue in November’s election. The money would pay for a series of projects intended to better house inmates.
It’s only a matter of time before a deputy or an inmate is hurt in the county’s overcrowded jail, Sheriff Tom Carter said at the commissioner’s meeting.
“If we don’t do something in that facility, it’s a powder keg, gentleman,” Carter said. The jail is housing about 300 inmates with only 194 beds.
If approved, the project would add 316 new beds for adult male inmates in modular jail units and renovations at the current Snake River Juvenile Detention Center. Juvenile detention would move to the County West building, which would need minimal renovations. Women inmates and prisoners awaiting trial would be kept in the jail downtown.
The proposal would cost property owners $25.95 per $100,000 of assessed property value. The bond would be serviced over 20 years at a projected interest rate of 2.74%.
Commissioners considered a shorter bond that would have saved the county an estimated $3 million over the life of the project, but at a higher annual cost to property owners.
The county is better off with the lower price for taxpayers, Commissioner Don Hall said.
“We’re extremely concerned about the tax burden on our citizens,” Hall said. “We’ve got to find the ability to ask for their help with a reasonable amount.”
Commissioners also considered paying for the project through the county budget with an annual appropriation lease. That would have gut county operations, Commissioner Jack Johnson said.
“When it’s desperately needed, we ask for a bond,” Johnson said.
The plan for expansion would allow the county to take advantage of existing jail infrastructure in cost efficient way, Commissioner Brent Reinke said.
“I don’t know how many bites at the apple we get at this,” Reinke said. “This is a very positive and possible step to make.”
Next week, the Twin Falls City Council may approve asking voters in November to pass a bond issue for new construction and renovations of firefighter facilities. A $36 million proposal for the project failed in May, and now council members will decide how much money, if any, to ask for in the next election.
The possibility of two major money requests on the same ballot did not factor into the county’s decision to put the jail bond issue on the ballot, Hall said, adding there are a lot of needs throughout the county.
“Our needs are their needs, too,” he said.
A bond to pay for renovations of the courthouse is not being considered for the November election but remains a priority, Hall said.
“We are going to move towards the courts as soon as we can get our feet under us on this project,” he said. The passage of the jail bond could allow the county to pay for the courthouse internally without issuing a bond, he said.
The last time the county asked voters to pass a bond was in 1987 to pay for the existing jail structure.