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New twist in jail vote controversy
We don't go out of our way to stir up conflict, but any news person will admit to a little adrenaline rush when a controversy like the one over the planned Red Willow County Law Enforcement Center -- read "jail" -- comes along.
We've endorsed the project in this space before, but at the same time lamented the fact that it wasn't built earlier, in combination with the city building, or otherwise at a lower cost with an eye for better efficiency.
And, we do agree with opponents that more input from the general public should have been sought out at an earlier time, before the final decision to build was made.
But we have to give props to the board of commissioners for taking decisive action and showing leadership that was lacking in the past, even if their hand was forced by the city's decision to close the "holding facility" that has been used in a stop-gap manner for the past 30 years.
And, it's true that property owners will be paying for their decision forever, whether or not a bond outside the state lid -- the subject of the May 15 vote -- is allowed.
It needs to be clear that as it stands now, the jail will be built; voters' only choice is whether the money for the jail will come from inside or outside the 50-cent county budget lid imposed by state law.
Opponents have argued that voters should have a chance to decide whether to commit their tax dollars to an obligation as large as a county jail, and they have a point.
But we have yet to hear an argument that voters did not have the same option in a project nearly three times as large, with an annual operating budget twice the size of the county jail.
The city's water treatment plant cost more than $14 million to build and about a million dollars a year to operate, if memory serves. Voters had no direct say on whether that would be built, and the cost is born by a smaller base -- only city water users, not all county property owners.
But we expect criminals to be taken off the street, the same way we expect safe drinking water to appear when we open the tap.
A story elsewhere today explains how a group of jail opponents are mailing an opinion survey to Red Willow County residents, and we urge readers to give the survey careful thought, mark it and return it for counting.
It will be interesting to see how the results, to be announced on the courthouse steps the Friday before the primary election, compare to the similarly non-scientific online polls readers have marked on the Gazette's website.
Here are the results from the current poll:
Where would you like to see the new Red Willow County Jail?
In the site planned by the county commissioners, next to the courthouse.: 55.0 percent (329 votes)
In a proposed site near the Work Ethic Camp.: 25.4 percent (152 votes)
In another location.: 2.8 percent (17 votes)
Don't build a new jail.: 16.7 percent (100 votes)
598 votes cast
A previous poll:
How do you feel about a Red Willow County Jail?
Build one on the same block as the courthouse.: 31.0 percent (362 votes)
Build one somewhere else.: 16.9 percent (197 votes)
Take over the city's holding facility and continue to send long-term prisoners to other counties.: 37.6 percent (440 votes)
Do nothing.: 14.5 percent (170 votes)
1169 votes cast
We would not be surprised to see voters turn down the jail bond plan on May 15's election, but they need to be aware that doing so will not prevent construction of the jail.