In simplest of terms, for every $4 coffee you purchase locally, one penny goes to help run the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde.
County officials are hoping voters remember this simple — yet important — fact when filling out their mail-in ballot later this spring.
Yavapai County Administrator Phil Bourdon and Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Randy Garrison met with the Sedona City Council on Jan. 9, in regard to extending the existing quartercent sales tax for the Yavapai County jail system. The county will be seeking voter approval to extend this current sales tax for another 20 years.
During their presentation, the two stressed the importance of residents sending in their ballots, which were to be mailed out next month with a
March 13 election. However, on Friday, Jan. 12, the county supervisors voted to move the election to May 15.
“A technical error requires us to move the election date back, which will give us more time to reach out to Yavapai County residents and make sure they fully understand the issue,” Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rowle Simmons said in a statement. “We have been holding meetings with organizations across Yavapai County in an effort to educate the public on this issue and what we are finding is that there is some confusion and comparison to previous ballot issues.”
During their meeting with council, Bourdon and Garrison emphasized that this is not a new tax, nor is it an increase over the current jail tax, which has been in place since 2000.
“We’re often asked why this tax wasn’t made permanent,” Bourdon said. “It’s not unusual for the Board of Supervisors or other elected bodies to ask the voters to approve something for a period of time knowing they’ll need to come back and show them what the money’s been used for and ask them to reinitiate that sales tax.”
The quarter-cent tax makes up nearly half of the jail’s $18.1 million operating budget with another 43 percent coming from the county’s general fund, and 69 percent of the jail’s budget goes to pay for officers and support staff. Any capital improvements including jail expansion comes from a separate fund.
Some of the services that are paid for through the jail tax include pre-trial release and diversion programs, behavioral health unit, veterans court and privatization of jail medical services.
By comparison, Coconino County has a half-cent jail tax.
Prior to this tax being in place, cities like Sedona had the burden of paying the cost of each inmate arrested here. Bourdon said there is a $350 booking fee plus $140 a day to house each inmate. These are costs that would be due monthly from each city. For example, based on the number of inmates taken in last year from Prescott Valley alone, if the tax does not pass, that city would have to pay nearly $1 million out of its budget to cover these costs. With the tax, however, that responsibility and cost is eliminated.
The amount Sedona would have to pay was not provided.
“The citizens will see higher taxes at both the city and county level to deal with this burden,” Garrison said if the tax does not get the blessing of the voters. “Before this passed, everyone had a jail and you were responsible for the staffing, all the paperwork and the services required but when the district was put in place, all of that went away. If this [tax] district goes away, this all comes back on your plate as well as ours.”
Capt. Jeff Newnum, who oversees the jail, shared several statistics with the council in regard to the 515bed facility. He said he’s often heard that the jail has beds available at any given time, which is not true. In fact, they average 579 inmates every day. The highest they have hit was 647, and realistically he said they could hit as high as 700 this summer.
Newnum said there is more to it than just filling beds with those who have been arrested. Of the 515 beds, 130 are for female prisoners. So, even if the women’s side is not at capacity, they cannot house male and female prisoners together. Another example is if they have inmates from two rival gangs, they cannot be housed in the same dorm for fear of violence. There is also a dorm of sex offenders who are segregated from the general population. And, inmates must be classified and separated as low to high security risk.
“We do not have the extra bed space,” Newnum said. “Ninety-six percent of every crime committed by those in our jail is a felony. Just 4 percent are misdemeanor only, and they stay for an average of four days.
“You hear all these rumors that if we open our doors and let all the pot smokers out we’d be empty. We don’t have any. You tell me where they are and I’ll let them out. We have the worst of the worst. Forty percent of our inmates are non-bondable, meaning that the judges have said they are too dangerous to be let out into society. And 53 percent of our inmates have some type of mental health issue that has to be treated.”