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Jail Tax Misses The Big Picture

An election in Spokane County would be incomplete without a jail issue on the ballot. Or so it seems from the past three years.

True to form, this Tuesday’s general election includes a sales tax proposal to raise $12 million for various jail construction and staffing efforts. As modest as the tax is at 0.1 cent on the dollar, and as pressing as the crime issue is, there are numerous reasons to vote no on Spokane County Proposition 2.

Chief among them are these:

The proposal offers an array of maybes as to how the money will be spent; specifics would come later.

The tax would last three years, but the cost of staffing additional cells would be an ongoing expense the county would have to cover somehow.

Spokane County needs a comprehensive response to crime, not a piecemeal one. More jails might ease overcrowding a little, for a while, but we can’t build cells fast enough to eliminate it.

Backlogs exist up and down the system. There are not enough police to crack down on offenders, not enough prosecutors and public defenders to try the cases, not enough judges and court personnel to keep those cases moving through the system and, as we know, not enough jail space to house those convicted.

Proposition 2 deals with only a part of the challenge, and incompletely at that. Assuming officials used the money wisely, the new cell space would fill quickly and offenders, juvenile and adult, would still walk around free for lack of space.

And, when the tax expired on Dec. 31, 1998, officials would have to drop the new programs or pay for them out of the general fund - or implore taxpayers to extend the tax.

Polls and common sense tell us crime is a major concern in the community. If county commissioners want to respond to that concern they should do it in the way they allocate the resources they have, not rely on voters to OK a new tax source.

In 1992 and twice in 1994, county voters rejected bond issues to build new juvenile detention capacity. With each election, the level of support diminished.

Crime-weary voters want action, all right, but they deserve a more creative response than just another tax request - especially a shortterm and defectively vague tax request like Proposition 2.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = EDITORIAL, ENDORSEMENT, COLUMN - Our view CREDIT = Doug Floyd/For the editorial board

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