Springfield clears hurdle.
So far, so good. But Springfield officials still have a long way to go in their bold plan to combat the city's chronic property-crime woes by building and operating a 100-bed city jail.
Last week Springfield voters approved - by a mere 144 votes out of 16,532 cast - a police levy that includes nearly half the money needed to run the planned lock-up.
The squeaker no doubt gave city officials some election-night palpitations. A defeat would have forced Springfield to consider a major redesign of the new justice complex to eliminate the jail and may well have delayed the planned start of construction next spring.
Now, Springfield officials face another significant hurdle - implementing their strategy to fund jail operations, estimated at $2.5 million to $2.8 million annually, using revenues from the new property tax levy combined with a hodgepodge of other funding sources.
While the new property tax revenues will be a dependable source of support for jail operations, other projected sources may prove less so. For example, it remains to be seen how much money the city can realistically expect to get from charging inmates for time they spend behind bars. It's hard to envision a meth addict serving time for burglary taking seriously his obligation to reimburse the city for time served in the new municipal lock-up.
It also remains to be seen how much money the city can obtain from leasing jail beds to other jurisdictions. Lane County had expressed interest in spending more than a million dollars annually for bed space in the new jail, but voters last week narrowly rejected a proposed county income-tax measure that would have generated those funds.
(On a related matter, the Springfield City Council may come to regret its decision to not join the city of Eugene in endorsing the county's public safety measure. Granted, Springfield's go-it-alone strategy has produced positive results, such as passage of the police levy and voter approval of a jail construction measure in 2004. But the approach also has diminished prospects for intergovernmental cooperation in efforts such as funding operations at the city's new jail.)
Springfield officials take solace in the fact that temporary property tax waivers granted to large new businesses, such as Royal Caribbean's call center in the Gateway area, will end in five years, providing a property tax windfall to the city that might then be used to fund jail operations. But counting one's tax eggs before they hatch can be risky, especially in a business environment in which companies routinely relocate or request extensions, even expansions, of property tax breaks.
For now, however, Springfield officials can, and should, celebrate voter approval of the police levy, as well as a companion measure supporting the fire department. The City Council's decision to fold funding for the jail into the renewal of its 2002 police levy was a high-stakes gamble that will pay off with a major chunk of the funding needed to operate the new jail - thereby helping bring the city's epidemic of property crime under control.
But there's more work to be done by the city before the new jail opens its doors.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; But city still has to nail down jail funding|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 15, 2006|
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