(HELENA) Lewis and Clark County leaders gathered Tuesday to tell voters how their money will be used, if they approve a levy to fund operations at a renovated county jail.
“It’s taxpayers’ money, and of course they have realistic questions,” said County Commissioner Susan Good Geise. “It’s our job to provide realistic and specific answers about how this money is going to be used.”
If the levy passes, the county will move forward with plans to convert the entire Law Enforcement Center in downtown Helena into jail space. Currently, the jail takes up just one floor of the building.
The levy would raise $4 million a year for 15 years. About $2.5 million would pay for additional detention officers and other staff for the expanded facility, which would hold more than twice as many inmates.
$775,000 would be spent on technology upgrades and maintenance. Many of the security systems inside the current jail space are decades old. Undersheriff Jason Grimmis said the electronic locks on cell doors sometimes malfunction, causing the doors to open on their own. He also said the current camera system is unreliable.
Finally, $725,000 would go toward programs intended to keep people out of jail. Geise said that could include mental health services and pretrial diversion programs.
“That money will keep only the people who deserve and need to be in jail, in jail,” she said. “The people who do not need to be in jail will be served in a way that protects not only them, but all the members of our community.”
County leaders say the jail is severely overcrowded, and unsafe for officers and inmates. It was originally designed to hold 54 inmates, but now regularly has 80 or more.
Last year, voters approved a $6 million dollar bond to pay for expanding the jail. But they rejected the accompanying levy, so the project didn’t move forward.
“Voters were able to certainly recognize the overcrowding in the jail, and so they voted to remodel the facility,” said Geise. “The part that we did not do a good enough job explaining, quite frankly, was how that money was going to be spent. So that’s what we’re doing this time.”
The levy would raise taxes about $43 a year on a $100,000 dollar home and $86 on a $200,000 dollar home.
Ballots will be mailed out to voters around the county on Oct. 18. They must be returned by Nov. 7.