Voters May Be Asked to Approve Tax for Oklahoma County Jail
By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- In the wake of MAPS 3 Oklahoma County voters could be asked to approve another tax, this one to raise money for the Oklahoma County jail.
Supporters said if the tax is not approved it could end up costing county residents more in the long run.
The estimates are as much as $400 million to fix the problems the Department of Justice cited. What is unclear now is whether a new jail will be built or if the old one will be fixed.
A report released by the DOJ last year said conditions inside the Oklahoma County jail were so bad it removed 160 federal inmates and placed them in nearby facilities.
"The DOJ has been extremely patient with us thought these many years of going back and forth on violations and repairs," Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said.
Maughn is extremely frustrated by the lack of progress. He says there are different drafts of proposed jail projects.
"We have been produced kind of a Cadillac version and now we're looking at more of a Ford version," Maughn said.
The big question is whether they fix the jail or just build a new one. Sheriff John Whetsel, who runs the facility, says nothing has been decided.
"We're looking at those recommendations now; they haven't been any decisions made by the commissioners," Sheriff Whetsel said.
Whetsel said building a new jail would cost as much as $400 million and residents of Oklahoma County will have to pick up the tab. The only alternative would be to have the feds take over the project and that, Whetsel says, could cost Oklahomans even more.
"They have no issue with money, they'll just say do it and charge the citizens and then that goes on your property taxes," Whetsel said.
That option doesn't appeal to Commissioner Maughn.
"I'm leery about the federal government coming in here and taking over and handing us the bill and that being more expensive instead of us just being proactive and fixing it ourselves," Maughn said.
Commissioners are still a few months away from a decision, although Whetsel believes there could be a move to a new facility in about three years.
Sheriff Whetsel said the cost of a building a new facility will be about $30 million more than fixing the existing jail but said the new facility will save much more within the first five years through lower utility costs and personnel.