Lawton_On February 5, Comanche County voters will decide on a sales tax to fund the county jail. It's not a new sales tax though, it would be a continuation of a tax that already exists - but it would be reduced. The existing quarter of a cent sales tax only lasts until the end of 2008, so commissioners are asking voters to keep it going at a reduced amount of one eighth of a cent until 2015.
The bill for the construction of the Comanche County Detention Center will be paid in full by March of next year. But, County Commissioner Ron Kirby says operating a county jail is not a money-making project. The county needs help to run it. "Contrary to popular belief, jails cost a tremendous amount of money to operate," says Kirby. "Our district attorney and law enforcement officials are all doing a good job of putting the bad people behind bars... and it costs money."
The yearly cost to operate the jail is about $2.6 Million dollars. Commissioner Gail Turner says the jail brings in some money from the state, which pays the county to house inmates who should be in a state prison. It also makes money from commissary sales. But, the two combined only add up to about half of what the county needs.
"Ten years ago, when this jail was planned and built, we knew that we would go back to the tax payers and ask them to pay for half of the quarter-cent sales tax for operational costs," says Turner. "County jails do not generate enough money to maintain all the expenses it costs to operate one."
Jail Administrator Dale Cagle says it's important to keep revenue coming in - for the safety of both the public and the inmates. "Public safety is a big part of it," says Cagle. He says reducing the funding would reduce their ability to meet state standards. "To have that reduced would jeopardize that safety for any person living in Comanche County."
Commissioner Turner is confident voters will approve the tax extension, but if it doesn't, they'll investigate other ways to supplement the budget for the detention center. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday, February 5, to vote on the tax decrease and extension.
Count on 7News to bring you the results.
7News Reporter Neely Tsoodle