Before they decide whether to put a criminal justice sales tax measure before voters this fall, Franklin County commissioners want to make sure Pasco officials will buy in.
The county's law and justice committee has asked commissioners to put a 0.3 percent criminal justice sales tax on the November ballot.
But commissioners said Wednesday that they weren't willing to make that decision until after the Pasco City Council decides if it will support the measure.
The city council hasn'tdiscussed the proposal yet, although Councilman Bob Hoffmann has participated in the county's law and justice council.
Never miss a local story.
Sheriff Richard Lathim said the new jail, courtroom and Pasco Municipal Court space are badly needed. Those same needs led commissioners to put a sales tax measure on the ballot in 2009, but it failed.
The jail, which was built for about 100 prisoners, now averages about 197 per day. A failing roof, which would be a $500,000 project on its own, only compounds the jail needs, Lathim said.
Commissioner Brad Peck said hedoesn't doubt the jail project needs to be done, but said with revenues down, the county has to prioritize multiple needs. Voters will be asked to approve a school bond in April, and the school district has asked Pasco and the county to also consider school impact fees, he said.
Pasco School District voters will consider a $59 million bond in the April 26 election to pay local costs for a new elementary school, middle school and an early learning center.
But Lathim said waiting to build a new jail could mean missing out on lower construction costs in the current economy.
Even if voters pass the sales tax measure, it will take several years for the jail to be built, Lathim said. "I don't know how much time we have," he said.
The 0.3 percent sales tax likely would bring in about $2.7 million a year, with almost $1.6 million going to Franklin County, which would get 60 percent of the revenue. Pasco, Connell, Kahlotus and Mesa would get the remaining 40 percent according to their populations.
The tax would add 3 cents to a $10 purchase and $3 to a $1,000 purchase. It wouldn't apply to the sale of motorized farm equipment or motor vehicles.
Peck said he isn't opposed to putting the sales tax measure on the ballot if that's what most officials in the county want. With Pasco representing the majority of the county's population, Peck said, he would have a hard time supporting the measure if the Pasco City Council does not.
"To be successful, it's got to be supported countywide," Lathim said.
In the meantime, the county will hire an architect to determine how much a remodeled and expanded jail would cost. County Administrator Fred Bowen said the county needs to make sure its plans for the jail are possible with what the sales tax would provide.
In 2009, cost estimates for the project were about $25 million to $29 million, Bowen said. But since then, the county's preferred design has changed and architects have told him the cost could be about half of the original estimates.
Lathim said the county also needs to consider a different payment approach for the jail. Pasco represents about 35 percent of the jail's prisoner base, he said, and probably should pay the capital costs for their portion of the jail project. Or the daily rate the city pays for its jail inmates could have an added portion for capital costs, he said.